It’s been a life long love affair. While I can’t say it was love at first sight, I can say it was love at first syllable. Somewhere in those early days the syllables turned into words and words turned into sentences and sentences turned into stories. That’s where my infatuation began—the story.
It started with lullabies. Take for instance Rock-a-Bye Baby—a simple song Mom used to calm me and put me to sleep. I may not remember the first time I heard it but I heard it enough that I sang it to my dolls when I put them to bed. You have to admit that it is a strange song to soothe a small child. How on earth did a tale of babies falling out of trees being crushed by a cradle in a wind storm lull me to sleep? It should have given me nightmares. I know. My mother’s voice crooning the lullaby as she rocked me to sleep no doubt was the attraction.
Soon I moved onto books. That’s where the real love affair began. I could touch them, stroke them, rip their pages out, gnaw off the corners, dedicate them with ink and crayons, hold them dear. There are pictures to corroborate this love affair’s beginning. Mom or Dad or some relative holding a book (with Grandpa it was always a newspaper) and me sitting there spellbound listening to the story unfold. Not to mention I still have the love letters I wrote in the few books leftover from my toddlerhood. Actually they were crayon scribbles that I used to make my mark in the books I loved and saved.
Being the second child had its advantages. I not only had my older brother’s books but all the books I received for birthdays and holidays. In the early days I had to rely on others for my story fixes. Then came school and I learned how to read. There was no holding me back then. My favorite time of the school year was when the teachers handed out the Scholastic Book flyer. I would scour the brochure and circle all the books I wanted. I am fortunate to have grown up around people who valued the written word. So I think my parents stretched the budget to allow for one or two of my must haves each year.
Growing up I had access to the world’s best library also known as Grandma’s basement. Walls upon walls held floor to ceiling book shelves. When I discovered this motherlode of books I realized I had books from the past 30 plus years to choose from. There were books from two and a half generations of Salabas. Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Aunt Karen, and Uncle Jim. Books for children (Mother Goose, The Little Red Hen). Books for tweens (Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins). Books for adults (Catch-22, Valley of the Dolls). I can remember plopping myself down on the green chenille sofa in the basement reading book after book. I even snuck one or two home after each visit. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!
“Susan, put that book down and come to supper!” How often did I hear that growing up?
“Okay. As soon as I finish this page.” I really meant finish the chapter but page sounded sooner.
“Susan! Supper! Now!” As if I needed a reminder punctuated with exclamations!
“Coming!” Not really. I had to finish that chapter. Ten minutes later I arrived at the dinner table as everyone finished their helping of tater tot hotdish.
“About time,” my brother snorted.
“Shut up. I had to finish the chapter.”
I think my favorite time of this love affair occurred during my tween and teen years. I had regular access to Grandma’s basement so I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and innocently discovered boys with the Lennon Sisters. Then there was the day I opened a drawer in an old chest. I found two books buried at the bottom. What were these I wondered. I pulled out the first one—Peyton Place, the second—Forever Amber. Who would hide books? It’s not as if there weren’t all kinds of books and magazines on the shelves already from children’s books to the stacks of Playboys. My guess they were either Mom’s or Aunt Karen’s buried and forgotten in a drawer. I read the backs of the books and fanned the pages. Whoa! What’s this? Someone had dogeared a number of pages. I started reading what was on one of the pages and blushed. I looked around to be sure I wasn’t about to be caught reading the steamy passages. I quickly shut Peyton Place and stashed my find among other books I might read on that trip. Yep, those were two books I brought home. For 40 years I stashed those books in my dresser drawer not wanting Mom to know I had them. What if they had been hers? Today they sit proudly on my bookshelf, finally freed from the dresser.
The affair continued strong for many years. As a teen I enjoyed the bodice rippers and romance novels. Primarily because I was almost always guaranteed a happy ending. As I matured my reading matured and I allowed other genres into my reading repertoire (but never science fiction nor vampires). Then, as with most love affairs, life plays a hand that makes you choose. In my case it was reading or education. I was 39 when I returned to school. Work and school consumed my days. I no longer had time to spend with my books. We grew distant. Oh I still had books but they were textbooks. I was busy diagramming sentences or solving algebra problems. It was not the same. This went on for seven years with maybe a rendezvous during the summer or holidays. I could feel the pull of those books every time I looked at them on my nightstand but my GPA seemed more important.
It was hard getting back into a rhythm with the books once I graduated. Slowly we’ve worked our way back to where we once were. Only now I’ve embraced diversity adding ebooks and audiobooks. I realized it’s not how it is packaged, it’s what’s inside that matters—the story.
All the books I have read enriched my life in so many ways. All the characters I met and loved and hated. All the food for thought those storylines served. All the places I traveled vicariously. I laughed, cried, cheered. I even cursed a time or two when a storyline let me down. So much has happened since I encountered the book. Let’s just say it has definitely been an affair to remember.