I thought I’d share this memory here, today, because not only is it my earliest memory (that I can be reasonably sure of the date of, anyway), and one of the roots of my raving case of bibliophilia, it includes my dad, and today is my first Memorial Day without him. So, without further ado…
My parents didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, back in the early 60s — Dad was a public school teacher, and Mom gave up working outside the home before I was born — but they both firmly believed that the greatest gift they could give any of their children was a love of reading. They started teaching me to read before I could talk, and according to my mom I was recognizing and reading the letters of the alphabet when I was 10 months old. (I still have a tendency to see words in my head as I speak them, and I have some interesting theories on the relationship between learning to read and learning a second language that some budding PhD in neurolinguistics might want to chat me up about. But that’s a story for a different day.)
The summer I turned two, my parents took me to the public library for the first time. This is where the memory starts. I can remember walking around among the stacks, and seeing them towering over my head. And then I remember looking down on them, and on my mom. Which tells me that I was on Dad’s shoulders (he was six foot four, and Mom’s always been just a little over five feet tall, except these days, when she’s a little less). At that point, I remember Mom explaining to me what a library was — that it was a place where you could come and look at books, and take home as many as you wanted.
Then they turned to leave.
Me? I pitched the one and only public temper fit of my childhood. I wasn’t going to leave without my books!
Dad finally managed to calm me down by explaining that in order to check books out of the library, you needed a library card. So I want a library card, I sniffled.
You can’t have one until you can sign your name, honey, Mom replied.
Naturally, as soon as we got home, I started bugging them to teach me to sign my name. And as soon as I could print the first two letters of my first name and my last initial, back we went to the library. I remember filling out the application for the card, and going to hand it to the librarian, and not being able to see her because I couldn’t see over her desk. I don’t remember the librarian laughing, but I’d imagine she did. I wasn’t quite two and a half years old at the time. And I was still a little ticked off, because they had a rule then (as I think they still do) that the first time you used a new card, you could only check out two books. But two books was a start.
Boy, was it ever…
Miss you, Dad. Maybe one of these visits to the cemetery, it’ll finally sink in that I’m saving all my Civil War stories and the news about my latest books for the next life, and not for the next time we get together for dinner.