My memories of reading
Posted March 25, 2011on:
A tweet earlier this week about spending summer days reading, then pretending to be a favorite character zapped me back to my childhood when I used to play Nancy Drew.
My mom taught me to read when I was very little, perhaps four, and firmly planted the seed for a life-long love of reading. I remember coming home from the school library one day with my very first novel. My mother’s eyes lit up. It was Nancy Drew’s Secret of the Old Clock. She had to help me with some of the vocabulary but from that first one, I was hooked. From Nancy, I moved on to Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, and even tried some non-fiction books like Karen by Marie Kililea
But Nancy and I, oh, we had a special connection. These were mysteries and I loved a good puzzle, felt smug when I figured out the answer before she did. I looked forward to the first week every month when a new Nancy Drew book arrived in the mail. I eventually collected the whole series, which my sister would later sell on eBay. (I never did get a share of those profits.)
Few of my friends shared my love of reading so no one really understood the lure books held for me, or why I idolized Nancy Drew. I was in elementary school and Nancy had A CAR. I’d never left my neighborhood and Nancy had adventures in places I hadn’t yet heard of. It would be many decades before I found kindred spirits in the form of my Twitter Book Club. Back then, it was just me and a very active imagination.
On Saturdays, my dad always took my sister and me to his parents’ house while my mom was at work. They lived at the bottom of a steep hill in College Point, a Queens, NY neighborhood right on the water, in the shadows of the Whitestone Bridge. My belly would flip like riding a roller coaster. When we felt our bellies rise, we knew the bottom of the hill was just seconds away and we were there.
Their’s was an old house with a tire swing in the front yard and a tall lilac bush in the back to which my grandfather would lift me up so I could get fresh blooms in time for Mother’s Day each year. The inside was creaky and full of doors with crystal faceted knobs that never latched unless you turned them just right. The house had three doors – the obvious front entrance, a side door at the top of a steep set of stairs leading to the basement and a basement door that opened to ground level.
The garage was detached and off-limits. My grandfather was a mechanic and his garage was filled with hydraulic jacks, pneumatic tools, and a bucket of gasoline he used to wash his hands. I used to think it was magic how greasy blackened hands emerged from the bucket entirely clean. I remember this because I love the smell of gasoline and would sneak into the off-limits garage as often as possible, imagining myself hot on the trail of a mysterious suspect escaped from River Heights. The satisfying crunch of gravel under feet walking the driveway always gave me plenty of warning to either hide or escape out the side door right where The Rock was planted.
In the center of the back yard, a large boulder poked up from the crabgrass. It was gray and glinted in the sun. It was good for sitting on or leaning against. I always wanted to dig it up but my grandparents only laughed and said I’d be digging a swimming pool if I tried. I used to imagine there was a treasure chest under the rock buried there from a pirate pillage centuries before.
On the desk just inside the front door of the creaky old house with the crystal faceted doorknobs that never quite closed properly, was an honest-to-God magnifying glass, just the same one Nancy herself would have owned. Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I’d swipe it and tip-toe down the steep basement stairs, through the cold stone cellar, looking for clues. I found a link to a silver chain once. It further convinced me there was treasure under that rock. I found a shovel in the old cellar and started digging. I made it a few inches deep and all I found was more rock.
Tired from all that sleuthing, my grandparents would make us lunch. Cold cut sandwiches or homemade pizza my grandmother cut into slices with a pair of scissors. And then the ancient refrigerator squealed as my grandfather tugged open the door and grabbed dessert. The house was not air-conditioned so we’d sit out front on the porch swing. They’d watch the world go by and I’d open the book I always brought with me and read, happily savoring my ice cold Hershey bar for dessert.
My grandmother died in 1996 and my grandfather passed in 2003. I bought a Hershey bar and slipped into the casket with him before it was closed.
Of my two sons, only one is a reader, but instead of The Hardy Boys, he leans to Harry Potter and Eragon. As he grows, I’ve proudly noticed his tastes mirror my own. He’s read my YA selections. I’ve gotten him hooked on The Hunger Games trilogy. He’s devouring Book 2 now. But as much as he enjoys reading and discussing these stories, I’ve never noticed him playing with them, acting them out, as I did when I was young.
I wonder why? I’m sad that he won’t have the kind of warm and comforting memories I do of my early reading adventures – for adventures is just what they were.