I could read by the time I started kindergarten. My older sister, J., had dyslexia (which I was quite careful about spelling just now), and our mother would read to her on the couch. It was there on a floral-print couch I started my book learnin'.
The summer between fourth and fifth grades, my Mom was a dispatcher for the Kingman Police Department, and she'd take me to work with her, where I would trundle across the street with my sack lunch ... to the public library.
A few weeks into this arrangement, I was out of books. I don't know that I read everything in the kids' stacks, but certainly everything that interested me. (I was stunned years later to find out that I had missed some Nancy Drew titles!)
Looking back, I realize the library staff must have been having some sort of meeting at the desk that morning. They were ALL there. The woman who wore the same gray pair of slacks every day ... the ones whose seams always seemed THIS close to bursting; the older lady with the magic hair-growing mole and glasses; and the younger gal who I only remember as "the younger gal" based on my back-then comparison to her ancient colleagues. (In hindsight, the oldest was probably 45--tops.)
As I came near, their conversation waned. Aunt Mole spoke up, "Yes, Laura? What is it you need?"
"I'm done with those."
"Done with what?"
"Those. The kids books," jerking a thumb over my shoulder to indicate the area decked out in Lilliputian furniture and posters in primary colors.
They looked from one to another in what seemed an eternity to me.
"Can I go over there?", pivoting in my sneakers to indicate with my torso the tall stacks, filled with volumes and volumes of mystery. "My mom lets me read Reader's Digest Condensed books at home."
A few moments of hushed conversation and a call was placed to my mother. And then magic: my card was swapped out for one that all the adults--and now a nine year-old carried. (I dearly wish I would have kept that card.)
I can still feel their eyes on me as I entered into new territory. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I knew that I'd best find something, or I'd look like a fool on top of having to revisit Beverly Cleary's version of elementary angst yet again.
Soon, though, I was lost.
Not literally, (this was small town Southwest, after all) but figuratively and willingly. The smells were richer, the volumes thicker and the pull stronger. I know it was then I fell in love. I allowed the lure of words, the telling of tales, to seduce me; to draw me in.
Time stood still. Or maybe it flew by. I have no way of knowing. It's a place, books, perfectly akin to good music. One in which I choose to stay, to forsake other experiences for. From that day forward, the perfect stories dwell in books rather than film or even stage.
How long it took me I can't say for sure, but I do remember choosing first one book, then hauling it around for a few more rows until I found the book that, to this day, remains my favorite.
Those ladies watched me the whole time. I lost that feeling of being observed as I inspected my new treasure trove of possibility, but have a distinct memory of all three of them staring intently into the aisle I was in and suddenly BLAM! looking quite busy when I emerged, novels in hand.
The books I chose? The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Alex Haley's Roots.
Both amazing works, both are stories of family, conviction and the creation of one's own freedom at any cost.
I'll let you figure out which is the one I buy every five years, re-read and then loan out knowing it will not return to me, but go on to bless someone else's shelves. And to give you a hint? There's not a single beheaded horse in the bunch.