I have been having a love affair with books since before I can remember. The printed page has called to me even in my dreams.
I have read books that I couldn’t wait to finish and books that I wished would never end. I read mysteries and thrillers, comedy and historical, why I even read westerns. When I was a little girl we were not allowed to watch a lot of television. Of course with only three networks there wasn’t a lot to watch. (My friends would argue that there isn’t a lot to watch now, even with 375 channels. They could be right.)
I still have a book my grandmother gave me when I was 12 years old. She loved Kipling’s work and had come across this book at an original flea market in Morven, N.C., called Lina’s … of course we pronounced it Liners. It was a Sunday afternoon outing that involved the aunts Pat and Margaret and the cousins. We all enjoyed the excursion that was akin to dumpster diving. Huge 18-wheelers with the logo of Brooklyn, N.Y., on the sides would haul in goods that had been discarded from the far away and magical Brooklyn.
There was furniture and clothing (Mammy replenished her rag bag and button can from this wealth of raw material) but most importantly of all there were books. So Mammy found this little red book in remarkably good condition called “Thy Servant a Dog.” She put it in her little treasure bag of “I’ll take this” items. I always came home with books of course and can still hear Daddy Dwight’s voice saying “that youngun’s got her nose in a book again.” I can remember him running a finger down my nose and saying “checking for ink.”
So on this one Sunday Mammy has this little red book in her reticule and I am eyeing it , crazy with want. I had read Mr Kipling’s Jungle Books (1 and 2) the tale of Gunga Din which transported me to India and all her glory and his poems were always magical. I am feeling the pull of this little book ‘til I can concentrate on nothing else. Our summertime visit will soon come to an end and we will be going home with Mama and Daddy to Cleveland, Ohio.
Our time is short and I know that before I go I must read this book. So we get to Mammy and Daddy Dwight’s house this particular Sunday and the little red book goes into hiding. I know that Mammy is reading it and I began to monitor her progress. I judged how far into it she was by the Bible Tract about the man with no feet she used as a book mark. It was now two days away from our departure. I knew that if she were to finish it today, I could sit up all night and read it. I asked her if she had finished it and she said, not quite.
Our bags were packed and ready to load into the trunk for the long trip home. I had written down the title of the book so that I could see if the library had it. The book had by now become an obsession. I knew that when we came back to Chesterfield in the following summer that the book would be on Mammy’s long bookshelf and that it would be available to read then. But the burning longing to know the story of the little dog in the book was undeniable.
The trunk was loaded, we all stood in the side yard hugging goodbye, Mama had big tears in her eyes, Daddy was saying “hurry up, hurry up!” and Mammy pressed a little package into my hands. I looked down and red bindings stained my hands and hot tears poured. I hugged her and thanked her and she whispered in my ear “it made me cry, too.”
I held that little book in my hands for first 200 miles, turning it over and examining the bindings and the title, the little black dog imprinted upon the cover and then I punished myself by not opening it to read the title page. I wanted to savour the moment without the blur of travel and annoyence of voices. I wanted to be in the privacy of my own room, tucked up in bed, flashlight in hand if necessary to enjoy the intimacy of the greatest gift my Grandmother ever gave me. It was worth the wait.