A patch of January sun streamed through the living room’s south windows and stretched over the gray linoleum floor. I sat in the center of the warm pool of light. Behind me, the tinsel on our Christmas tree glittered and winked. Mirrored ornaments swung and turned in the breeze from the heat register, reflecting flashes of the sun on all four walls. Reaching into a candy dish next to the sofa, I selected a chocolate-covered angel food candy and admired the tree. Our family never put up and decorated the tree until Christmas Eve, but then kept it up for most of January.
Reaching into the pile of gifts still under the tree, I pulled out a book and flipped it open. Before learning to read, I had constantly begged to be read to. After I learned to read, I resented it at first when my big brothers and sisters insisted that I do my own reading. Now, as a thirteen-year-old, I loved escaping into the pages of a book where I became the person having the adventures.
On that January afternoon, I was a popular, young, girl detective, solving a mystery that involved an old, spooky mansion and a smuggling ring. The clues to the mystery rolled into view with each step that the heroine and her friends took. Nothing was overlooked, not even the seemingly mundane gardener working the mansion’s grounds.
One problem that I’ve had with reading through the years, is that I identify so strongly with the main character that when they suffer loss, embarrassment or stress, it is as though it happened to me personally, making reading some stories painful.
In my early teen years, I loved books so much that I constantly asked for them as gifts for Christmas and my birthday. When Mom went to Marshfield and I didn’t go with her, she’d ask, “Do you want anything from town?”
I’d inevitably reply, “Bring home a book for me.”
We used the local libraries, but owning a book made me feel rich. The rest of my family must have felt the same way. There were several shelves in our house filled with books. Some were discarded school book readers, others were classics by the likes of Daniel Defoe, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain and Jane Austen.
Although I didn’t read all of the classic books that we had, I felt as though they were money in the bank. If there was ever a horrible snow storm in October that dumped ten feet of snow on us, we were prepared. I would have enough books to read, even if it took until the middle of May for the roads to be plowed. My family had plenty of food…after all, Mom had canned all summer. I reasoned that even the cows would be all right, Daddy had the haymows, silo and granary full of food for the animals.
It was all well and good to imagine myself as a happy castaway on an icy farm-island surrounded by snowdrifts. At that age I never took into account how distressing it would be to not have contact with civilization. I was unaware of how often my family went to town to buy day-to-day supplies. Until I grew up and farmed with my husband I didn’t realize that my ten feet of snow would have put a bad crimp in our 1960’s manure spreader disposal system.
On that long-ago January afternoon spent reading my Christmas gift book, I finished it with great satisfaction. The girl detective out-smarted the adult criminals. Feeling as though I had solved the mystery myself, I jumped to my feet to look out the window. I was a smart, accomplished, clever girl!
Snow drifts around the house looked like white peaks of freshly whipped meringue. Evergreen trees in the yard cast long, blue shadows. Before popping one last chocolate Christmas candy into my mouth, I called out, “Mom! I’m going outside to see if I can solve the mystery of where the rabbits live. Once we know that, we can stop them from chewing on your rose bushes!”