blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

“But you'll get your days and nights mixed up!”

Or, How my love affair with books and writing began.

As per usual, I'm the new kid on the block. I'm thrilled to be joining this group even if I do admit to feeling a bit reluctant to claim my crone status. This has been a familiar refrain in my life - “But what comes next? Are we there yet?”

I have a ton of ideas for my first blog post and now I need to hone in on one topic. But which one gets kicked out first from my premenopausal ADD brain? Yes, I know anyone could get lost in there. I do it several times a day. As I decided long ago: “I know I'm out of my mind. There was so much stuff in there already, there was no room left for me.”

Focus . . . Mostly, when I thought about this post, I kept digressing to “what I did on my summer vacation.” But I never remember having to write on this topic. Remind me to ask my big sister the English teacher about that one. Have her college students ever gotten that assignment? Why does Charlie Brown always have to write about this?

Sorry, there I go, again. I'm dragging you along for the ride in my thought processes and I can't even offer you a road map. OK. I'm going to talk about writing and summer. And I did read quite a few books this summer. For as long as I can remember, books have always defined summer for me.

How so? Well, my favorite memories of summer almost all include books.I grew up in the suburbs, a tail end baby boomer (Yeah, there's the baby reference, again. I'll officially claim my crone status when I turn fifty next spring). I do remember life without cell phones, computers, VCRs (er, DVRs), and video games. And my memories of summer are almost all about long days -- and nights -- spent reading.

My sister and I lived in a house that my Dad planned and (I'm reciting the official family history) helped build with a builder named Charlie Weigand and his two men. Technology came our way because my Daddy is a very handy man. He learned quite a few trades growing up, including auto mechanics from an uncle. He was an electrical draftsman by profession, and had installed both the electricity and plumbing in our house. Unlike Tim Taylor (insert caveman grunt here) or Cliff Huxtable, he could actually fix things when they broke (and do it right the first time).

Back to the technology reference. Many times Dad would go fix something for a relative, one of the neighbors, a church member or a guy he worked with, and he'd come home with a cast off appliance as payment. Sometimes it was a slightly older model (discarded for a newer one) or just needed a simple fix, and he could do it.

We got our first color TV that way. It was a huge monster, in a solid wood cabinet the size of small compact car. Our first dryer, as well as our first air conditioner (another hefty cube of metal), came home that way.

Before we got the air conditioner, Dad's ingenious plan was to install a huge window fan in a window of the storage room on the second floor. The motor made a low humming noise that vibrated throughout the house. Like crickets and peepers, it became a soothing, nocturnal summer noise for me.

Nighttime meant a trip upstairs (“it's time to climb the golden staircase,” he'd tell us), to the only full bath in the house. Coming downstairs after a bath, I loved feeling the delicious coolness on my just-washed skin as the fan pulled the cool air in through the downstairs screen windows, up the stairs and out through the window.

We slept in a bedroom on the first floor (before big sister got fed up with nosy little sister and moved into an upstairs room on her own). This was where I was introduced to the wonder and joy of words. Mom and Dad took turns reading to us at night. We'd pile onto one of the twin beds we slept in, and the one book that bound us together as a family was Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. It's the one book that my Dad really enjoyed reading, too.

What little girl hasn't wanted to be Laura? I know I did. I was obsessed for several years with all things Prairie. Growing up in Lancaster county Pennsylvania, with the Amish several cornfields over, it was fairly easy for me to acquire the requisite sun bonnet. My grandmother sewed me long cotton nightgowns. (I never did learn to sleep in t-shirts). And my mother fashioned our beautiful halloween costumes (including princess ones for me when that stage hit). Thinking back, I have to give a lot of credit to Laura with (first) my love of all things “old” and (second) my love of books and words and writing.

Night time and reading. They just always went together for me. Especially in the summer. That was also where the biggest battles of my adolescent years were fought. This was the problem of getting so engrossed in a book that you read 'til the wee hours of the morning and sleep in 'til noon or later. “You're getting your days and nights mixed up! You won't be able to get up for school when it starts again!,” was my mother's daily summer refrain.

And so it goes. Because now I lecture my teenage daughter nightly to turn off her computer. So after our nightly mother-daughter power exchange, and the computer is finally shut down, I turn out my own light (after I read for a bit until I'm sleepy). I often wake for my 4 am trip to the bathroom and stop in her room to ease her glasses off, retrieve a book or the Nintendo DS from under her and turn out the light.

(And an aside about my now retired mother. Middle of the night insomnia plagues her regularly, so she now leads a mostly nocturnal existence – reading the wee hours away. So make that three generations of readers with goofy internal clocks).

Katie and I came to the Little House books a bit later. Instead, it was Harry Potter who first forged our reading bond. She now reads the same copies of books my sister and I knew and loved. She was mildly surprised when I pulled several off her bookshelves recently and reacquainted myself with some old and much loved friends.

I can't imagine a summer without that – late nights with really good books.

1 comment:

  1. LOVED the Little House series... those characters loom large in my childhood subconscious. They go a great distance toward offsetting the more bizarre and twisted things that lurk in there (Hammer Horror flicks, an encyclopedic knowledge of four-letter words... oh, I shan't go on...).
    Balance in all things!
    Ever yours,