Tag Archives: vague memories

Books and Memories and Dads

When I say the word books, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

Is it a particular book you love? Is it a memory of reading something at a particular place or time? Is it a memory related to reading? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever it is, it’s probably something that has been with you for quite a long time and that someone, somewhere fed your love for books. I believe that people who love books, have probably done so from a very early age. It’s not just about the reading part, although that is probably the most important part of loving books. No…I think it also has to do with the visceral reaction we have to books, whether it’s to one book in particular, or to books in general.

There is something deeply rooted in many of us that literally pulls us towards anything with the written word. Sometimes, we don’t even have to like the object of our affection. Just the fact that it’s a book is enough to make us want it. I see catalogues from various book sellers and even though I have absolutely no interest in an early 19th century book about guns, I still want to see that book! I want to hold it. I want to thumb through it and maybe read the first page or so. I want to know how much it costs and I want to vacillate over whether or not I can afford it and whether or not I want to add it to my collection, not because I love 19th century books about guns, but because it’s a book! It’s an old book! And it’s old! And it’s a book! See what I mean?

So yes. When I think of books, I definitely think of books but one of the first things that comes to mind for me is my daddy. Which is kind of funny because my mom was the voracious reader in our family even though I surpassed her in my voracity to read when I was still very young. My dad was a very, very casual reader. He was not the one who stayed up until 2am reading, that was my mom…or me…under the covers with a flashlight, of course.

No…my dad wasn’t the big reader of the family. What he was, was a man of infinite patience. The man who, every two weeks, almost without fail, drove me to the library in downtown San Antonio. This was not a quick trip to the library. No. We lived a good 20 minute drive away from the main library and this meant we had to eat dinner before we left because, as I’m sure you can well imagine, once I got to the library, I was not leaving until it closed.

So after we finished an early dinner my dad would tell us to get in the car and he would drive to downtown San Antonio so I could have my evening at the library. My brother would come sometimes too but he was irrelevant to me at that time. He only got in my way and got bored quickly so it was better when he didn’t go. This was mine and my daddy’s night. We’d drive around looking for an open parking meter, park, feed the meter (I got to do that too!) and walk to the main entrance of the library.

As soon as we walked in, I literally ran up the steps to the 3rd floor where the children’s library was located. Dad checked in my last batch of books, then waited for the elevator and eventually made his way up. Meanwhile, I would systematically begin walking up and down every aisle on the floor looking for books that might interest me. My dad, the saint, would make his way to the little kids reading area and sit down to wait. Sometimes, he’d thumb through a book but more often than not, he would just sit there, patiently waiting for me.

I never made it through the entire floor in one evening. Not for lack of trying, though. I walked, head turned sideways so I could read titles better, pulled books halfway out so I could scan the cover. If it looked interesting, I’d pull the book all the way out and open it so I could read the description on the back or on the sides of the dust jacket. If it sounded good after that, I added it to my pile. After I had more books than I could easily carry, I made my way to a table, dumped them all and proceeded to read the first two pages of every book. If I was hooked after the first few pages, they made my “take-home” pile and the rest I dutifully re-shelved. Pretty soon, I had a pile of books that I would then have to cull again (because libraries put LIMITS ON YOU. Why? I don’t know?!) to choose the books that would be making the journey home with me.

Week after week, month after month, my dad and I followed this ritual. My dad was a man of few words. He didn’t often say, “I love you” because I suppose men at that time weren’t really big into expressing affection like that. But I knew he loved me because he did this  for me without a gripe. Ever. Proof positive…we also had a book-mobile that parked itself near our neighborhood once a week but daddy never took me there unless I needed to return some books and check out others in between main library visits. He could have copped out of our library visit, but he rarely did. He could have told me it was too far to drive. He could have said he was tired from a long day at work. He could have found any one of many reasons to back out, but he didn’t.

So I believe I owe my love of all things books to my mom, who taught me to love to read, and to my dad who willingly fed my voracious appetite for books without once complaining how much it cost him.

The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden

Another book that etched itself upon my young mind was about a young girl who is the neighborhood pain in the ass. She’s unruly, she’s a bully, she’s the neighborhood terror! One day, she makes her way into an old mansion which has been gated shut for quite some time. Her name is Maureen and she makes the mistake of stealing something she finds there in that old, abandoned house, and in doing so,  brings down the wrath of the seven wicked sisters who still live in that house…or do they?

The book, written by Mary Coyle Chase in 1968, and illustrated by Don Bolognese, was my first real experience with time travel and the supernatural. I think it’s one of the reasons that I’ve never been able to get this story out of my head. I checked it out of the library to read in the fourth grade and never forgot it. I searched for a copy for years and was unable to find one.

About 15 years ago, I actually called the San Antonio Public Library and asked for the children’s librarian. I could not remember the title of the book at the time, only the plot, so I described it to her. She had no clue at all about what book I was referring to but she knew a librarian in another city in Texas (I hesitate to name the city for reasons that will become clear as I tell you my story) who specialized in children’s literature and if anyone would know which book I was trying to find, she said, this librarian would know. So I called the other librarian and described the story to her and she knew exactly which book I was talking about. The title was The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden. She informed me the book was out of print but she had one in her library that no one ever checked out and she would be happy to send it to me. I gave her my address and she was as good as her word. About a week or so later, I had the book in my hands and I was able to visit the old Messerman Mansion with bratty Maureen once again.

The funny thing about this book is that I never payed any attention to whom the author may have been, even as an adult. It just wasn’t anything I had given much thought to until a few years ago when I decided to look up the author and find out more about her.

I was surprised and delighted to find out that Mary Coyle Chase was primarily a playwright who was best known for writing one of my favorite plays entitled, “Harvey”. Remember Harvey? The giant, invisible white rabbit? Mary Chase later adapted her play into the movie that starred Jimmy Stewart. In 1945, Ms. Chase was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Harvey. To date, only a handful of women have been awarded a Pulitzer prize in the area of drama. Ms. Chase wrote several plays but only two books and both of them were children’s books. In 1958, she wrote a book entitled, Loretta Mason Potts, a book of which (I am ashamed to say) I know absolutely nothing about, and my book, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden.

In 2003, Knopf republished the book with the revised title of The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House and is still somewhat difficult to find. Prices for the 2003 printing vary from $3.00 used, in good condition to $69.82 for a new copy. The original 1968 publication is currently selling for anywhere from $160.00 for a library copy all the way up to $449.00 for a fine copy. I think now it may be easier to understand why I didn’t want to share which library gave me this book so many years ago!

For me, this is one of those books I’ll never sell, even if I were to find a better copy. This was a childhood book whose story never left me. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned the author of this story was also the writer of one of  my favorite movies. And, my book also carries the memory of a kind librarian who helped me to reconnect with a book from my childhood I never thought I’d find again.

And So It Begins…

Honestly, I’m not sure of exactly when I began reading or what types of books I began reading, I just know that I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. I have some vague memories of fairy tales, bible stories (one of which had an illustration of the devil offering Eve the forbidden fruit that gave me nightmares!), and other books like this:

This set came with our Collier Encyclopedias. Remember encyclopedias? They were like the internet of our generation. Anything you wanted to know about everything was in the encyclopedias. When I got bored, I actually read them! But I digress…

Back to books, the books I feel set me on the course I’m most completely set upon now. The Happy Hollisters! Remember The Happy Hollisters? You don’t? Really? Well, honestly, I vaguely remember them but when I would stay after school, waiting to be picked up by my parents (I was still too young to walk home), I would help Sister Edwards and after I got done erasing chalkboards and cleaning erasers, I’d get to sit in her classroom and read. There weren’t many books in there but I latched onto the Happy Hollisters. These were mild mysteries involving a family of five kids, Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue. The kids ranged in ages from 4 through 12 and they were all amateur sleuths. I thought they were cool. I don’t remember how many of these books I actually read, maybe only one or two, but I was hooked! Mysteries were destined to play a huge part of my life and I didn’t even know it yet.

Click on the pic to visit the Happy Hollisters website!

If you do remember The Happy Hollisters and if they bring back good memories for you, you might want to take a minute and check this out…believe it or not, there is a HAPPY HOLLISTERS WEBSITE! What a blast from the past! There’s more information about the books, the stories, the author, paperback reprints, and some really cool retro t-shirts that I may actually have to order myself!

Suffice to say, I’d probably read different books and stories prior to these books but for some reason, these books have remained firmly embedded in my memory. Not the actual stories or the titles or even the characters. I think it was more the idea that children could be actively involved in solving mysteries without a lot of help from the adults. These kids were all over the place and no one was telling them what to do! At least that’s the way I saw it, but again, I digress…

I suppose, most importantly for me, these books were my gateway drug. Before I knew it, I was doing mysteries of all types and finding that I couldn’t get enough.

Next installment: Nancy Drew

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