Book by Book

 

 It was the Wednesday after school let out, so it made sense that the library parking lot was crowded with cars, but it looked extra-busy to me. The girls and I went in to find all of our favorite librarians wearing t-shirts that read, “Dig into summer!” There was a woman playing the guitar and a half-dozen craft tables piled with project materials: bookworm bookmarks, egg-carton bulldozers. There was even a plastic baby pool filled with sand where kids were digging for dinosaur bones.

The public library had gone all out this year to encourage my kids to read. I went there to sign Lexi and Caroline up for the summer reading program, but I’d no idea that The Kick-Off was that day, at the very hour we’d arrived.

I call it Mr. Magoo parenting.

Even after having had Laser Eye Surgery, I feel myself stumbling around like a near-sighted coot, narrowly avoiding calamity, while somehow managing to achieve great reward raising these two kids of mine.

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Caroline and Lexi like to read. I’m happy about that, obviously, and yes, we read together a lot. I like to say we don’t watch a lot of tv and it’s probably true, especially in the summer when there’s so much outside to distract us.

But I just referenced Mr. Magoo.

And on any given day, if you name the product, I can sing a 7-second ditty associated with that product. It’s a little game we can play.

Let’s begin:

You say, deodorant, I sing, “Get a little closer, now don’t be shy, you can get (you can get!) a little closer, with Arid Extra Dry!”

You say, pretzel, I sing, “Rold Gold! That’s what America calls a pretzel. Rold Gold! Now that’s what we call a pretzel!”

You say, soup, I sing, “Soup is good food.”

You say, milk, I sing, “Milk is a natural.”

We could do this all day.

“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts. Mounds don’t. ”

It troubles me, how easily retrievable these 1970’s and 80’s commercials are, especially now when I’m at the age where finding car keys takes up as much time as an errand itself. I may as well write down, “Find Car Keys” on my To-Do List and check it off when accomplished.

My adept ability to recall these advertisements proves two things:

1. The jingle writers of that era were good
2. I watched a load of tv as a kid

What’s funny is that none of the tv programs have had any lasting effect but the commercials are still occupying considerable real estate in my brain–waterfront with unobstructed views.

I feel like I could use this space. You know when you delete trash from the computer and you see the graphic of all of the junk moving bit by bit, methodically into the Neverworld? That’s what I want to do with all of the jingles in my head.

I am the youngest of four, and though I’ve been told by my siblings that I was once–a long, long time ago–a bit of a brat, I don’t remember demanding particular shows. I watched what was on: Gilligan’s Island, Bugs Bunny, Captain Caveman, Hong Kong Phooey, Tom and Jerry continuously beating on each other, the friggin Three Stooges, good god, no wonder I became a reader.

Sure, my mom was a librarian, but I give ample credit to the Road Runner for nurturing my love of reading.

I must have seen just enough of that idiot coyote to send me fleeing the tv room and grabbing a book for goodness’ sakes, retreating into my Secret Garden in search of company with Frog and Toad, or Nancy Drew, or the Lion, or the Witch, or the Wardrobe, or anyone with some good, common sense.

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I remember participating in the summer reading program at our local library as a little girl. My mom would walk me in each week; she’d help me choose the next batch of books; she’d watch me line up for my stickers, which were important at the time.

I remember when I was in Middle School, our local library changed locations, from one building to another, just a block or two away. One day I stood in a long line of people–teachers, students, parents–between the old and the new building, receiving one book from the person behind me and handing it off to the person in front of me. The buildings were just close enough, I guess, that packing the books into a big truck and unloading them a block away didn’t make sense.

So we lived out the inverse of that computer graphic, the one where the material moves bit by bit across the screen from one point to another. We were feeding the meter, though, not emptying it: a seemingly endless line of people passing on a seemingly endless supply of books, from the old to the new.

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I wish I could remember what it was like to hear and feel my mom reading to me when I was the age my girls are now, but I really don’t.

It’s hard for me to believe that my girls may not remember me reading to them: all the nights we’ve spent, snuggled on a bed, all the mornings we’ve spent, curled on a couch. I will always remember the way Lexi stops the momentum in order to turn back a page and study a picture, the way Caroline laughs out loud at the funny parts.

I did spend a lot of time talking about books with my mom in my later years. I do remember that. I have the image of Mom sitting at our kitchen table, perusing the new books she had chosen for her school library. I have the memories of her, so many evenings, sitting on our screened-in porch, reading the book she’d picked for herself. She’s gone now, but I have the Seamus Heaney collection, a Christmas gift, in which she’d inscribed: how nice it is to share the love of a poet.

I don’t remember her reading to me, but I know she fed me, book by book, like the community fed that new library from the old so many years ago, and like I’m feeding my girls now.

Move over jingles. Make room.

Book by book, old to new, past to present, there’s glorious space to fill.



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