In response to a writing prompt on Mama’s Losin’ It blog:
What made your childhood bearable?
My childhood was not normally unbearable. Of course there were moments that weren’t great and I especially hated taking piano lessons from my father who was a pianist and organist. My hating to practice caused a lot of friction in the family. Of course we had chores to do and my parents were rather strict, discipline-wise, but I had a lot of fun things to do to keep me busy: making crafts, riding my bike, playing softball. Growing up, the other neighborhood kids and I played in the woods by ourselves for hours and no one seemed to worry about our safety.
Even with all those fun things to do, I may not have survived childhood if I had not been able to read, for reading took me to another time and place. It made me forget my own petty childhood problems.
The local library was about a half mile from our house. I walked or rode my bike there. I read every juvenile mystery in the library before I was in fourth grade. I had to have a special note from my mother to sign out books from the adult collection. My mother, of course, looked through the books before I read them to make sure they were approprriate for me. At that time, the adult collection wasn’t “adult” in the sense we think of today. Most mystery books were rather “cozy” such as those by Agatha Christie or Mary Roberts Rinehart ---where there was little or no blood and all the violence happened “off screen” so to speak.
My grandmother gave us her old Reader’s Digest condensed books and I read most of those. I read every book my parents had in the house. I poured over my parents National Geographic magazines and continued to read detective and mystery novels.
At the library, I picked up a list of books one should read before college. I read as many of those classics as I could squeeze into my summers: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Gone With the Wind, Portrait of a Lady, My Antonia, The Great Gatsby, Robinson Crusoe, The Red Badge of Courage, The Scarlet Letter, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Alice in Wonderland, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Lord of the Flies, Look Homeward Angel, Main Street, The Three Musketeers, Jane Eyre and many more.
I had a book with me almost all the time. Sometimes my mother had to pull it from my fingers and hide it until my chores were done. I often placed a book on the steps to the upstairs with the door closed at the bottom of the steps. There it was out-of-sight but handy once I completed my chores, and also ready to be carried upstairs if I were going to my room. No matter how often I asked her not to do it, my sister, who was a neatnik, would see my book on the steps and take it to my room, so when I went to grab it from the stairs it would be gone. I remember being angry at her a lot, because even the three minutes it took to run upstairs for my book meant three minutes I wasn't reading.
We had a porch on the east side of the house, so it was shady on hot afternoons. I loved sitting there reading, but I also had ----not a tree house ----a tree “seat” my father had nailed to the limbs of the apple tree in the backyard, so I could read there, high in the branches unable to be seen from the house.
I have never lost my love for reading. My husband and I make a weekly trip to the library. Reading is still my favorite escape from personal challenges or when I want to forget the problems of the world. I learn from every book I read, fiction or nonfiction. Books enlighten me. They lighten the load.
Mystery and detective novels are still among my favorites, but I read more non-fiction than I did when I was younger. Mark Twain has become a passion. I will be attending another Twain conference this coming summer.