I have always been a reader. I don’t remember when I learned to read, but I remember being seven and getting my first library card. I was number 23, which meant that I was the 23rd person in our small town to acquire a library card. For the first thirteen years of my life, I lived within a half block of the library. We were allowed to take out six books at a time. I would be at the library when the doors opened, take out my six books, go home and read them and be back to return the first batch of books & get out another six just before the library closed.
I read a lot during the long lazy days of summer. But even during the school year, I could devour a book a day. I can still read about three books a week when I set my mind to it; when I have nothing else to do.
What you need to know is that I was a small child, a teeny-tiny thing and I preferred to be unseen. I would bring my books home; spring, summer, winter, fall and go seek a hidden place to read. I preferred cave-like places. I would read in the back corner of my mother’s closet, my eldest sister’s closet or under the bed. Mine and my mother’s bed had space under the headboard. I could take the pillows, my purple & white lamp, and my books under the bed. There I would curl up in the corner, hidden. Often the cat and sometimes the dog would join me.
Outside, beyond where I was, life went on. I could hear my mother in the kitchen and my siblings and their friends would pass by the bed on the way upstairs to their rooms. This was in the Hahn house. Where I was, was safe and muted and comfortable. I would get lost in my books until a voice would inquire “where is she? Where is gigi?” I would smile to myself, hold the cat closer and decide whether or not I wanted to leave my imaginary worlds and go join the real one; sometimes yes, sometimes no.
This last Christmas, our work party included tickets to go see the Vinyl Cafe. Dave, played by Stuart McLean, talks about his daughter Stephanie reading in the closet. She is reading a book titled the “Encyclopedia of forgotten places.” My first thought was “I remember exactly how that feels” and my second thought was, “I hope that the book is real, I so want to read it.” As far as I can find it’s not a real book, but there are a lot of books similar: Like this one or this one or this one.
I’m inspired now to draw a map of my own imaginary places; the places I use to hide and read in. I wonder how many I’ll remember. Perhaps I’ll share it with you at a later date.
In my extended family, we don’t tell stories from our childhood. I mostly just know my own stories. I not only hid and read under my bed at my mother’s house, I also read and hid under my (& my younger half-sister’s bed) at my father’s house. Do you notice the theme? Do you notice the hiding? My family is very good at hiding. We struggle to talk to each other. We are careful of each others feelings. Our skin is not thick; it is paper-thin in spots, sometimes almost transparent. As I hope, my love for them is transparent.
We are blocking out our stories, perhaps? We are blocking out the sorrow, the pain, the love. Sometimes it is too hard, too much work. I wish we were not like this. I want to know all the stories, everyone’s stories.
“And I would be glad to be there, to see old people I might never see again, to see cousins I played hide-and-seek with in a dark yard specked yellow with lightning bugs, back before we were scared of life and snakes.” (p. 251)
by Rick Bragg
N. Y.: Knopf, 2001