Tuesday, February 19, 2013

my first love


Do you remember your first love? That flushed, giddy feeling of being swept away?

I do. 

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.







AntiqueChase said...

Ahhh, the bookmobile!!!

Unknown said...

I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed this post.

Reading is the one constant in my life, it's something I've always loved....books were my escape for sure when I was young & now they are simply a happy place for me, I'm never happier than when I am reading. One of the real fears of my life is dying before I have chance to read all the books that I want to read!!

I too LOVED "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", it's been a few years since I read it and now you have made me want to read it again.

I loved Leslie Caron in "Daddy Long Legs", such a lovely film.

My son is reading "The Borrowers" at the's a lovely moment when your children discover the books that you remember reading and loving.

At one time, we had a book-mobile that used to drive near our home and my brother & I would take books home from it every week....I remember wanting to be the lady who drove it!!

To answer your question about my Hampstead Heath post, yes those were my own photographs, taken on Sunday while we were out walking. I think there must be trees there that are hundreds of years old, it's a wonderful space.

Hope you are well XX

Monica said...

Leslie, I am in love with this post and so glad to know this part of your story. I too LOVED the bookmobile and still love how books can temporarily transport me somewhere else. Beautiful post.

bobbie said...

Another book lover here ~ your post was beautifully written! Books always were, and still are, my joy, my refuge, and my greatest pleasure ~ and some of my best friends.
Peace ~

Unknown said...

Such a lovely post, Leslie...I have such fond memories of The Borrowers; I loved that book...books that I have shared with my daughter as a little girl are all the Roald Dahl, she simply adored them and Just makes me smile to think of him ;-)
Thank you for popping by today...have a good week.

Sherry @ No Minimalist Here said...

Hi Leslie, This post brings back so many memories. I loved it when the bookmobile visited our school and we were able to check out four books. I've always loved to read and I am sure the bookmobile played a big part in that.
xx, Sherry

Linda said...

Those are great memories Leslie!!
I did not know that the bookmobile traveled to the states as well!!
I read most of those books too!

Leena Milligan Lanteigne said...

What a wonderfully nostalgic post! I remember the book mobile that used to come to my neighborhood. I loved when it came and your description of how it looked, smelled and felt inside really hit home. I read some of the same books and always liked the stronger women who could do things like the men did! I still enjoy seeing a femail character in a movie or show who can handle her own and then some! Smart and strong! Jo was my favorite Little Women character too! Thank you so much for sharing this important part of your life! I for one, totally get it! Hugs, Leena

Gypsy Heart said...

Such a beautiful post! I've always loved to read and yes, it was my escape too as a child and my "therapy" as an adult.

Jo was my favorite in "Little Women". Have always had that film in my favorites.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed this post. In my town, the elementary school was across the street from my house. In summer the library was moved from the basement space to a first floor classroom and was open for business three days a week, I think. I don't recall a single book I read there, but know i would finish one before the next library day and get three for the weekend. Then i was old enough to walk the two miles to the main city library, where I hunkered down in the stacks to read Nancy Drew while waiting for the library to close and make my walk home. Nancy Drew was my heroine and as a researcher and reporter, I was in a way emulating her researching crimes. Thanks for bringing back a nostalgic memory.

michele said...

i had forgotten about the bookmobile! only fuzzy memories of it really. i did not read a lot as a child, for me it was all about theatre and writing and acting in plays. so even though i am a writer now, i always say i am not that well read and certainly did not read the right stuff. (nonfiction is what i love -- the essay and the memoir!).

i am also a trained psychotherapist, and i never did practice as a therapist per se. i was led to work with children as an academic tutor and emotional coach and loved those years!

thanks for bringing back a fond memory!


The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

What a warming post! We didn't have the bookmobile but I belonged to a book club and was allowed to order books. And when they came! How I treasured my bookshelf and to date I must confess that my first impressions of a person are secretly conditioned by the books they have on their shelves, or the books they adore. (I also confess I went out with a guy who had NO books and from the start I knew it couldn't work. Even tried to turn him into a reader and this did not happen.) Oh books! I still order on Amazon and feel a thrill when the postie leaves them on our tall gate post.

Sew a Fine Seam said...

I love books too and always have! I loved reading Little Women and I loved Nancy Drew too!

Lori said...

I used to have it marked on the calendar when the bookmobile was due to be in our neighbourhood! The first book I remember reading and having it stay with me was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I then graduated on to Nancy Drew and the Judy Blume books were always a favourite. I still have a book on the go at all times and my husband laughs at me when I am stuck with nothing to read ~ I will read the cereal box! I read every day on my lunch ~ it is a great day to destress for that short time and get swept off somewhere.

Unknown said...

the more i read your blog the more i see how we must be long lost sisters!
ahhh, the bookmobile. one of my fondest memories. it came through my neighborhood, smelled amazing like thick paper, plastic and old loved books (remember when most books were that thick soft cream paper?-did i just age myself???) and the borrowers! yes!
good to hang with ya today my friend. have a beautiful aloha friday.

Unknown said...

The sweet sound of that bookmobile coming to the school! I was also an avid reader - hiding under the covers late at night to read after "lights out". My favourite was a serious of biographies written especially for young people - Ameila Earhart, Florence Nightingale, Wintson Churchill, Joan of Arc - inspirational figures who made me realize that there was a lot more out there than the apartment complex I grew up in in suburban Toronto.

Never having gone to college or university, I've learned so much from reading about ancient Rome and medieval England over the years - more than I would ever have gotten from textbooks I fear.

I distinctly remember feeling the same sort of frustrations as the main character in "A Tree Grows...." - it was eye-opening.

Thanks for taking us back to those wonderful warm spring days where the latest book from the library became the escape to another world.

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