I think I was about 9 years old when I received a most important Christmas present: my own copy of Louisa May Alcott’s classic literary work, Little Women. I’m not overstating it when I tell you that it was a gift that would literally change my life.
Oh, I’ll admit, I probably didn’t look terribly excited when I opened the package to find…a book. I was 9. It was a book. It was also a gift from my Aunt Carol and Uncle Bobby. I’m certain that I said, “thank you” to them. To do otherwise in our household would have been unthinkable—and would have resulted in some rather uncomfortable consequences later. (grin) Although I don’t have specific memories about the thank you, so I’ll go out on a limb and say that it probably wasn’t my most enthusiastic outpouring of gratitude.
I do remember thinking, “What were they thinking?! ” and putting the book in a stack of others beside my bed before running off to play with the other kids. It would be months before I would pick it up for the intended purpose.
My parents were foster parents from the time I was in first grade until I entered the sixth grade. (yes, I know it seems like a pretty broad leap from my last paragraph, but hang with me for just a bit and then you’ll understand.) In addition to my natural-born siblings, a younger brother and sister, we had 4 brothers who were placed with us for long-term care. Our house was also considered an “emergency placement” home. That meant we might wake up on any given morning to a few more siblings who might be with us for a couple of days to a couple of weeks. With the exception of the first two foster sisters who stayed about a year, I was always the oldest child in a household of a relatively fluid occupancy.
The occupancy rate didn’t do anything to change the fact that our home had three bedrooms. It also meant that along with learning to share and show others how to get dressed by themselves and do the assigned chores, there wasn’t a lot of room for personal space. Privacy wasn’t really an option for any of us. It was up to me to find it elsewhere.
I found it in a book.
Reading was always stressed in our home. Academics were important and my parents and various extended family members had read to us from the time we were in the womb. That may not sound like much today—many new parents do that now—but it was probably a lot more unusual back in the 1960’s. I had taken to words early. I had a pretty advanced vocabulary and could be quite precocious, as a result. The loving extended family on both sides laughingly encouraged that trait. As my reading skills improved I read more and more. I read encyclopedias, children’s reference books—anything I could get my eyes on, in fact. I was a sponge and information was drug of choice…and then it happened…
One day I found I had run out of “new information” to read in our house. It was that then that I turned to my stack beside the bed and dug out my Christmas present. Within moments my world completely shifted. I left everything in the world I knew behind. I had found fictional literature and I became Jo March.
I knew what it was to have a house full of children, to be responsible, to have chores, to warm by the fire until I scorched my nightgowns, to understand that there were people who needed us to share what we had and I loved words just like she did. I devoured that book! I couldn’t get to the library when it was over, so I read it again…and again…. In a world of wonderful words I had found kindred spirits, adventures and privacy all at the same time! That’s when I became truly grateful for the gift given and received those many months before!
It’s been years in the making and I’m certain that it won’t really matter to them now, but “THANK YOU, Uncle Bobby and Aunt Carol! You helped to shape my world and gave me a gift FAR more precious than I could have ever understood at age 9.”
How about you? What books and people shaped your world? Would you share some of those gifts with me now? I can’t wait to hear from you!
*Photo by Becky Childs (and yes, that IS the book I received all those years ago! I’ve kept it despite the failing binding and consider it to be one of my favorite things despite the age and condition! Great literature…the gift that keeps on giving!)