My mother knows all the words to the Cat and the Hat. Why? She used to read it to my older brother and I at least twice a week before bedtime. I’m in my mid twenties.My brother is thirty and I don’t think my mother had read that story aloud in fifteen years but if I ask her she can still recite the entire thing.
“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”
Bedtime stories were a ritual in the Pope house when it was just my big brother and I. We used to share a room and every night my mother would come in, pick a book off our jam-packed shelf and read to us. My father never did but he would sneak in and sit by the door, listening to my mother as she read. Sometimes he would grab the video camera and record us, focusing on our fascinated reactions as she told a story. Recently, when my father began the process of putting all those tapes on DVD we stumbled upon my mother’s retelling on the Cat in the Hat. At first I had to laugh at my mother’s very eighties Jheri curl and marvel that the woman on the screen had the same exact face as I do. But When she started reading and I who couldn’t have been more than two years old at the time started clapping my chubby little hands. The grown up me and kid me merged in that moment and I was transported back to 1987 when we still lived in that two bedroom apartment in the Bronx, when my mother used to take us to the zoo on Wednesdays and my father used to go to work dressed in his dark blue police officer’s uniform.
My mother used to take us to the library often back then and let us sit in the children’s section for hours and take out as many books as they would allow. I remember that place vividly with the elephant statues out front and the slightly moldly smelling basement that housed the kids books. Later when we moved upstate the first place our mother took us was the local library. It was much smaller than the one in the city and resembled one of those stone cottages one might see in England. They were having a sale the first time we went and it was the first and only time I have ever heard my mother say buy anything you want. (I still have most of those books from that day).
When I hit middle school and became more preoccupied with boys than books my mother handed me a beat up copy of Chances by Jackie Collins. “I remembered liking this when I was a teenager,” she said as she handed me a book with more sex and violence than a thirteen year old should read.
When I was in high school. My mother bought The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux and Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruise and left them lying around the house. Which I read ,devoured and looked for more of those things called romance novels.
My father would always buy me books and once waited in line to get me the third Harry Potter the day it came out. Another time he drove to three books stores to get me a book that all my friends were reading. Thinking back I realize what good parents I have and about how they never forced reading upon me. Books were just a natural part of our lives, always around the house, always available if we should want one. At this point I have read thousands and each book brings up a memory of a certain time in my life.
What about you? Why do you love books? Did you read to your kids? Did your parents read to you? Have any fond memories of your local library? Does a certain book bring up a memory?