I grew up in a household of readers. It seemed to me that everyone always had their noses in books. My grandma, who lived with us, often had her big Bible open on her ample lap and other reading materials (magazines and books) open nearby. My grandma was a wonderful storyteller, and she did professional “readings.” She memorized things like “The Gift of the Magi” and performed them at churches and grange halls and many other places. (Somewhere in the house, I have some of her old books with the pencil markings of what to memorize.) My greatest regret is that she died before the ease of recording arrived on the scene. I remember sitting near her chair, listening to her stories with rapt attention. I just don’t remember the stories themselves.
Anyway, since I was surrounded by readers, I wanted to learn to read too. On that momentous first day of school, I had one goal in mind: to learn to read that day. But something awful happened. They didn’t teach me to read on that very first day. I went home and told my mom I wasn’t going back. Why bother if they wouldn’t teach me to read?
Fortunately for me, quitting school at the age of six was not an option. I did go back and I did learn to read. See Spot Run.
Learning to read was the best thing that could happen to this girl’s wild imagination. (Click to tweet!) Yes, I was great at making up stories on my own, but oh my. The places books could take me.
I still own some of the paperbacks of my youth. I’m surprised these things don’t just crumble in my hands when I pick them up. I lost my complete set of Trixie Belden books many years ago (I loved those books!!), but here are the ones that have managed to safely travel with me from childhood to teen years to married life to motherhood to career woman to grandmotherhood and a total of 12 moves.
Irish Red by Jim Kjelgaard
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Hobby Horse Hill by Lavinia R. Davis
Old Bones, The Wonder Horse by Mildred Mastin Pace
Golden Cloud, Palomino of Sunset Hill by Leland Silliman
Champion Dog Prince Tom by Jean Fritz and Tom Clute
I also have some very old copies of Pride and Prejudice and Gone with the Wind and Count of Monte Cristo and The Red Badge of Courage, and a few others.
Books are a part of the fabric of my life. I have given away hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of books and yet I still have hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds on my bookshelves, shelves in every room of the house, of course.
The designation “drama queen” wasn’t around in the ’50’s and ’60’s, but it would have been a good description of me as a kid. I had a vivid imagination in my childhood, and I loved to perform.
I was ten, in the fifth grade, when the storyteller in me discovered the fun of entertaining others with words. I spun a tale about how my mom was born in a covered wagon while coming west. Even in grade school I loved studying history, and here in southern Idaho a person can still see the ruts from the wagon wheels in the Oregon Trail. That made it easy to slip into that place in my imagination to weave my tale. I had no idea that down the road I would write many stories set in the Old West. All I knew was that my friends loved to hear my stories.
I became what I call a compulsive writer. I can’t recall ever thinking, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” I just wrote. Wrote and wrote and wrote. On scraps of paper and on binder covers and in tiny diaries with those itsy-bitsy sized keys. When I wasn’t reading a book or pretending to be a horse or entertaining in one form or another or fantasizing in my head, I usually was writing something. It was part of my every day world.
What about you? When did your love affair with books begin? How have the stories you’ve read influenced the person you are today? Are you a compulsive writer too?