I spent my childhood summers in the city. Both my parents worked so my sister and I were ‘latch-key’ kids. Long, lazy days of zero parental supervision. Oh, sweet bliss!
And even better – I had a wonderland of excitement waiting for me just ten blocks from my home. I made the trek every other day; my arms plied high with books. Where was I heading?
The public library, of course.
The musty smell of old books was as welcoming as any tangy sea breeze. And the cool clamminess of the children’s section located in the basement was as refreshing as dabbling your feet in a cool brook. And talk about summer friendships! Hundreds of them awaited me on those packed shelves.
I usually checked out twelve books a visit. Six books for each arm. It took a bit of juggling to get through doorways but once I was on the street I could manage just fine. And if my arms got tired, I’d just drop to the ground wherever I was and start reading until I felt rested again. Of course that meant the trip home took a lot longer but since there was no one waiting on me that didn’t matter.
If I’d only read those books I might have to end this blog post here, because really, what more can be said about spending your whole summer reading? B-o-r-i-n-g, right? Not if you were a kid with a runaway imagination who lived what she read. It’s a miracle I survived my childhood.
When I read Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, I immediately went on my own quest to find a psammead (sand fairy) who grants wishes. Of course, I didn’t achieve quite the same results. First, I needed sand – not an easy commodity to find in the city. I finally settled on the baseball diamond in the Junior High schoolyard. And since there were five children in the book but only one of me I improvised with a few dolls and a teddy bear. Then I needed a picnic. I crammed some Cheese Whiz crackers and my china doll’s tea set into a pillow case and then added a spade because everyone knows that psammeads bury themselves under sand in order to avoid pesky wish-demanding children.
Alas, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the sand in the baseball diamond was packed so hard it might as well have been cement. I could barely scratch the surface let alone dig deep enough to unearth a sand-fairy. Determined not to let this disappointment scar the remainder of my day I got a scathingly brilliant idea.
I would hold my picnic on top of the backstop!
It was a bit of a climb, made more difficult since I had a booty-filled pillowcase clutched in one hand but I made it! And what a thrill it was to look down at everything from my perch above. I set out the dolls and teddy bear, passed around china plates laden with crackers and had the most thrilling tea party of my life. I felt adventurous and daring and equal to any literary heroine …until it came to climbing down when I found myself inexplicably frozen with fear.
Unfortunately, the sheer terror of my situation precluded my enjoyment of the subsequent police rescue. My parents were just getting home from work when the cruiser pulled up. Imagine their horror and shock! I’d been stranded on the backstop for hours in the blazing sun. Dehydrated and sunburned, face streaked with tears, I didn’t resemble the child they’d left that morning.
That wasn’t my last brush with the law either. Later that same summer, I had to be rescued off a cliff by a park ranger. My family spent every Saturday of the summer at Boyd Conservation Area — 991 acres of trails, picnic areas and river swimming. There was even a man-made beach with lots of luxurious sand. But my psammead digging days were over. I had moved into the mystery section of the library and had just discovered Phyllis A. Whiney and was reading The Mystery of the Haunted Pool.
Our park routine was always the same: my parents would lay out a blanket, plunk down the cooler and set up for a day of sunbathing. My sister and I and any friends we brought with us were allowed to simply roam free. And roam we did. I’m sure we covered every square foot of that park by the end of the summer.
Which was how I stumbled upon the Haunted Cave. I knew it was haunted because I could hear the most unearthly moans coming out of it.
Of course I had to explore. Trouble was the ‘cave’ was way up the side of a cliff. So up I climbed and, you guessed it, got stuck. Petrified, I clung to the side of the cliff like a squirrel monkey until some hikers noticed me and alerted the park rangers. Imagine my parents’ reaction when I showed up by their picnic blanket with my ranger escort! Actually better not to!
Then there was the orphan craze I went through. I LOVED books about orphans. Such a romantic, exciting life! Think Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking. And then I got my hands on a copy of Nobody’s Girl by Hector Malot. It was written in the late 1800’s in France and reads like a soap opera.
When Perrine’s mother dies she discovers that she has an estranged grandfather. I was captivated by the 300+ pages that told Perrine’s harrowing search for someone to belong to. Sniffle. I identified with the heroine so much that I took her persona upon myself. I stopped eating breakfast and lunch so that I would know what hunger felt like. I teased and tangled my hair, ripped my clothes and rolled around in the dirt to give myself the look of a lost waif. Then I walked down the bustling streets of Toronto looking desperately at every kind elderly face wondering it belonged to my very own long, lost grandpappa. I won’t mention the time that I was escorted out of a department store by a security detail – the very one my own father worked at!
By, by now you’re convinced I’m mad as a hatter and ought to be locked up. In fact, you’re probably wondering if I have a juvenile record. All I can say is that I may have grown up but I still live every book I read…and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
How about you — any books from your childhood you just had to become a part of?