DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER UNTIL YOU HAVE READ ITS PAGES

Betty and I had waited for 23 days to 4 get our Christmas tree.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere-Albert Einstein

I don’t recall exactly when I began to love books. I know I can never remember not loving them. Momma began to read to my sister and I when we were little girls. The first book I remember her reading to us was The Tales Of Peter Rabbit. Peter was a very disobedient bunny unlike his siblings, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. Mr McGregor, the farmer, was always chasing Peter out of his garden. I recollect being so afraid  Peter would be caught and made into a pie like his father had been. I recall  Mr McGregor took Peter’s jacket when he got it caught on the barbed wire fence and put it on the scarecrow. Somewhere in the story, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail were sick in bed. The doctor came and gave them only one pill. So Peter tied a string around it and would give it to them one at a time, then jerk it up and give it to the next rabbit. This went on until they had all taken the pill. So he got the name of Pill-jerk Peter. I recollect giggling uncontrollably when Momma read it. Somehow it made sense to a four-year old.

She would read many books to us in the evening as we laid across our beds with our  elbows on the bed, hands propped under our chins and our ears eager to hear the story. The one I loved the best was Heidi. She would read us one chapter every night and each night, we would beg for more. I wanted to hear it, but I didn’t want it to be over. In my eight year old mind, I became Heidi. I ran through the Alps with her, pushing Clara’s wheelchair. I laughed and cried with Clara and Grandfather. 
When our family took the train to see our Grandparents in St. George, South Carolina, in my mind, I pretended to be on my way to the Alps. I would look out the window and envision the mountains and the goats. When we rode in our Grandfather’s mule wagon, I felt the bumps as we went, just as Heidi had going up the mountain. I pictured Heidi to look exactly like me. Her life was so adventurous and yet, I knew  I could not bear to be separated from my Momma so the only way I would ever have the experience was through the words that Johanna Spyri laid down on paper. Momma made the characters in the book come alive. She used different voices for each one. It was a sad day when she said The End. I think I cried.

Momma would continue to read to us even when we were in our teens. My favorite series was Cherry Ames Nurse Stories by Helen Wells. We read each book in the series and I could not wait to hear more. I had always wanted to be a nurse and through Cherry Ames, I learned about all the adventures I could have as a nurse. She was a student nurse, a chief nurse, an island nurse, a ski nurse, a jungle nurse, and Army nurse, a rural nurse and many more. She did it all. Cherry Ames sealed the deal for me, I was going to head to Nursing School promptly after I graduated from Memminger High School and I did.

Momma also read us poems. She memorized one in High School and still knew every word. It was called The Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many years later when she was in the hospital at the age of ninety-two, Momma  recited the poem to me.

“Tell me not in mournful numbers, Life is but a dream.  For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem.”   Longfellow continues on in the poem, but the meaning of this poem was seize the day, you may not get another chance.  Momma had a real talent to write poetry and did it all the time. We would find little scraps of paper with one of her poems on it or inside a book  she was reading, there might be one stored away. I think the poem she memorized in high school became her incentive to write, and she became mine.

Many years have passed since those years when Momma read to my sister and I. My sister and I are both passionate readers. I still find myself pretending I am the character in the book. I love so many kinds of books, it is hard to say who is my favorite author. I especially love the books written by the South Carolina authors who paint such a vivid picture of the low country where I was raised. Authors like Pat Conroy, Mary Alice Monroe, and Dorothea Benton Frank are certainly among my favorites. Pat Conroy’s, The Great Santini, made me laugh and made me cry out loud. I also love what John Grisham can do with words and how he draws you in to all the cases in his books.

I look at my over crowded bookcases and see every kind of book that is imaginable. Books about History, Art, Sports, Music, The South, The Bible, as well as many old classics like The Adventures Of Jonathan Swift and The Catcher In The Rye.  I think I own every book known about the Kennedy assassination. I have  books of Poetry and books about romance,history, suspense,murder and adventure. They take me to places I could never go, and yet, I have been there in the portals of my mind. The writer’s words jump off the page into my brain and scramble out into my imagination. It sends me on a formidable journey. For a short time, I can sail the roughest seas; climb the highest mountains; win the longest race; row with the boys in the boat; rule with the mightiest of all leaders; become a child again; lay my head at Jesus’s feet; or be what ever I choose to be through the magical words written on the pages that have been penned. I have seen giants and fairies and things not of this world and I have walked beside Mary and Martha as they entered the tomb. If I close my eyes, I can see the places, smell my surroundings and loom to lofty places as slowly as a tortoise or as fast as a jet breaking the sound barrier. I am in control, it is my mind, my and mine alone. The author has given me a gift as he shares his talent with me and the rest of his readers. You can go anywhere you want to just by reading a book. Let your imagination run away, take it out of the jar and let it fly. Let your brain go to far corners of the earth and beyond. I have weathered many storms, visited the stars, been a politician, fought pirates, saved the world, been a princess, tried many cases as a lawyer, and hiked the Appalachian Trail with Grandma Gates. I have seen the colors of the rainbow and flown with Amelia Earhardt.

You can leave your stress and worries behind and let your book take you to another place, a place where only you can go for everyone’s journey is so different. Two people can attend the same event and if you ask them to describe it, you may not think they went to the same place. Such as it is when you read. The author has carved the words out for you, but you can go wherever you want to when you read what has been written. That is the beauty of a well scripted novel. You become engaged with the cast of players. You can see yourself as a character in the book, but none of us will choose the same character. For instance, when I think of myself as Clara in Heidi, I am of a totally different mind-set when I am Heidi. This is the beauty of reading books. You can set sail in the portals of your mind. Your boat can go as fast or as slow as you put the wind in the your sails. You can enjoy the trip or you can become seasick. You can feel the waves rolling in the ocean or your sea may be as calm as glass. For it is your voyage, your adventure that makes the trip. You have packed your bag and you are ready to go. Where and how and with whom is up to you. You can have a glorious adventure or you can have one that is unbelievable or one not made for human minds. It is all up to you. That is what I love about reading. It makes my brain expand to make room for all sorts of people, people who I would never have the opportunity to meet. Some may be thieves or murderers and some may be teachers or sailors and some may be foreigners or people of color, but you will get to know something about each of them. Some you will love and some you will be glad they are not a part of your life.

I recently read The Book Thief. I loved the young girl and how she took so many chances just to get to read books. I wondered if I would have had the courage to take the same chances she did, and yet, it was how she survived a horrendous war.

So I say to you, read to your children and your grandchildren. Read to those whose eye sight is gone, read to anyone who cares to listen. It will bring them into a world where they can not go alone. Maybe they will share my passion for reading and my love of the characters. It has been well over seventy years ago when my Momma read Heidi  to my sister and I. In my mind, I can still hear her soft Southern voice trailing over the words, making me want to hear more. I was blessed with this gift, one she gave me oh so long ago, for I still want to read more and more and more.

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