Do you remember your first love? That flushed, giddy feeling of being swept away?
Even now, I remember how I felt when I spotted the traveling library bus that visited my tiny elementary school. We called it, The Bookmobile, and when I’d see it through my smudgy schoolroom windows, my heart would skip a beat just thinking of those big bus doors opening with a hiss and a thud.
(I remember MY bookmobile being bigger and more majestic. Isn’t this how we remember our first loves?)
When you’re one of the smallest third graders in the class, climbing up the three mammoth bus steps is a breathless experience; this was my own magical beanstalk dangling in the sky; it was my chance to visit a heavenly place filled with long, narrow bookshelves and the swooshing sound of books being opened and shut.
The Bookmobile came twice a month.
For an eight year old book worm these were magnificent days. The routine was simple but painfully slow. Each time the door opened, only five children would be allowed inside to pick their four books.
It was here inside this tight, cramped space, where I first became intoxicated with the aroma of old books. This is where I learned the sensation of running my fingers over the bumpy, worn, book covers while I gazed sideways at the titles; and this is where I first experienced the crackling noise of pages coming alive in my hands.
It sounds dramatic, but I’ve often thought that books saved my life.
For a sensitive little girl growing up in a home where boys and girls were treated differently, books were the key to another life. Books introduced me to strong female characters and stories with bold ideas about the world.
I loved reading books, and my books loved me back. They helped me get good grades and positive attention from teachers who scribbled encouraging words on my papers.
Today my parents are the most supportive people in my life. But like so many others, they look back on some of their parenting and shake their heads. They certainly regret the sexist views of their early years; they now know that girls are every bit as equal and capable as boys. But when I was a babe they were young too, and simply repeating what they were taught.
But in the interim, books made me resilient.
In those moments when I felt alone, reading was my source of comfort and rebellion. And as I gaze over this post, I can see some early signs of where I was headed.
It’s not surprising my first book crushes were ones with young girls in central roles. Harriet the Spy, My Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland were but a few.
One of my earliest favorites were The Borrowers series. Because I found the idea of a secret world hidden right under our noses to be utterly believable. I smile at this, when I think about my eventual profession.
I find it interesting that my little eyes were immediately drawn to book titles with words like “secret” and “adventures” and “mystery” in them.
Which explains my love affair with Nancy Drew.
I was always fascinated by Nancy’s lifestyle. Her convertible. Her fancy home and her housekeeper. And her father Carson Drew who was an attorney. I’d never met a real attorney at that point.
But in the end it was Nancy’s probing, independent ways and her habit of getting into trouble that made me like her.
When I read Little Women I was inspired by Jo March.
Which March sister was your favorite?
I was intrigued when Jo turned down Laurie’s proposal of marriage and headed to New York. (Hmm, little did I know how my own life would mirror Jo’s)
And even at my young age, I admired her fierce dedication to writing.
But when I think about little girl characters, it’s Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that touches my soul. I fell in love with Francie’s starry-eyed dreams and her love of school. And I ached for her poverty.
Even now when I watch the movie, I cry during the scene when Francie graduates and receives the roses her father paid for, before he died.
a photo from the 1945 film that I loved!
But probably the sweetest-(borderline sappy) book I can remember reading as a little girl was Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster, and it falls under the category of man-rescues-damsel-in-distress. It’s almost embarrassing but I include it here because it has a twist.
In the film version Leslie Carron plays the young college woman.
Yes, there’s a handsome man who rescues a young woman, but in this ‘fairytale,’ the prize is a college degree. It happens when a wealthy donor agrees to pay for an penniless, eighteen year old woman to attend an exclusive college, on the condition he remains anonymous. Hence, the letters to Daddy Long-Legs.
Of course you know the ending. They meet and fall in love.
I share these books only because I see themes peeking out; I see a little girl expanding her ideas by reading all kinds of stories.
Did my love of books make a difference? Definitely.
Eventually I did become the first one in my family—nuclear and extended-- to graduate from college and then, graduate school. And this led me into the therapy profession, a job that was based entirely on listening to other women tell me their stories.
For years I worked with eating disorders, struggles which are usually right there under our noses, and kept hidden. And it was my job to help others look beneath the surface…
to solve their own mysteries.
Isn’t life fascinating?
Thank you Mr. Bookmobile.