As a child, I spent more time at my grandmother’s house than my own, or so it seemed. I went to the school in my grandmother’s neighborhood, because it was easier for my mom to drop me off there in the mornings on her way to work. I would eat breakfast at her kitchen table, brush my teeth and walk to school with my friends, who also lived within a two block radius of her house. My memories of my childhood, with my sister and cousin, are centered around her home, which was small but filled with eclectic things. Surrounding me at her home were antiques, ceramic dolls, oriental rugs, quilts, a vast garden, a tree house, a hammock, a hundred-year old grand piano, ancient photographs of long-dead family members, cats (LOTS of cats), a bust of Nefertiti (Yes!), and most of all, books.
Books are important. That is one of the main values I learned from my grandmother. She had bits of poetry, quotes, and favorite sayings taped up on her kitchen cabinet doors. She had bookshelves lining her living room and spent many hours reading aloud to us as children. When we spent the night, she was just as likely to recite poetry or a passage from a favorite book as she was to say The Lord’s Prayer with us before bed…..it was all equally important to her. We read children’s books, fables, and fairy tales. Before we were old enough to read them ourselves, Gramma would read aloud to us from books such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit. She recited Jaberwocky from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There to scare us delightfully as we pretended and played in her extensive flower gardens.
As a child, reading transported me out of my small town to lands beyond my imagination, and to places I had never seen before. Our small public library was a place of calm and comfort for me, and I loved walking through the cool, dark stacks looking for something new to read. It was on one of these trips with my grandmother that I discovered the Nancy Drew series, which kept me occupied on her comfortable chair and ottoman for many a spine-tingling hour. As an adult, I’d forgotten about certain books that my grandmother introduced me to as a child. One day I walked into the classroom of a colleague at the middle school where I teach and saw a copy of The Egypt Game on the shelf. That book from my childhood had been long forgotten, but seeing the title instantly transported me back to the hammock under the pecan tree in my grandmother’s backyard where I first read the book. I remember wondering if the bust of Nefertiti sitting on the grand piano in her living room had the types of magical powers the characters in the book suspected their own Egyptian “artifacts” of having. I warily walked by that Nefertiti bust for weeks!
As I grew older, I spent less and less time at my grandmother’s house. Reading books was still important, even with my academic load, and when I went to college I found solace in the university library. I worked part-time in a bookstore for about a year while attending college for my undergraduate degree, and found it calming in my hectic world. After my grandmother died, and her house was sold, my sense of home changed. I still had my parents’ house to visit (with lots of books there, too), but no place ever held the same kind of magical, mysterious, adventurous spirit with which my grandmother’s house was filled. I now have children of my own, and we have a nice collection of books on some overstuffed bookshelves in our home. I encourage my students to read, I’m a member of a book club, my mom and sister and I still exchange books with each other, and we love to shop in bookstores when we get together. However, the love that I have for books, and the feeling of “home” they give me, is much deeper than loving the characters, or the story, or the author. My love of books is wrapped up in my sense of home. Louisa May Alcott is quoted as saying, “Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again.” I couldn’t agree more.
My Gramma showed her love for me by reading to me, by surrounding me with stories, by making me a part of her home full of books. Now when I read a book myself or read to my children or students, I share that love with others. No matter where I am, when I am surrounded by books, I am home.