I grew up with a hand-me-down life — most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs from a much older, much shorter, and much thinner cousin, which, as you can imagine, gave me a bad body image way before such things were fashionable. (It’s funny to think that people don’t do that anymore — hand down clothes — except perhaps for baby clothes. Instead, we donate garments that no longer please us to the various world-wide thrift stores, and end up destroying the cloth and clothing industries in the very areas that need such industry.) I probably sound ungrateful, but truly, back then I was glad for such “new” clothes, even if they had to be altered to fit me.
I also got my cousin’s outgrown books, which did a lot to counter whatever harmful connotations her clothes might have had. Then, as now, I read in the same way I breathe — inhaling without thinking. It’s just what I do, what I have done from the moment I learned how to read. (I know there must have been a time when I didn’t know how to read, but I don’t remember such a time, nor do I remember learning to read. It’s as if I truly have always read.)
Those books from my cousin were the staple of my early life. I went to the library often during the winter and every day during the summer, but during the times I couldn’t get library books, such as when I was sick, I reread my hand-me-down books. I also read my parents’ books they kept on the bookhselves in the room we called the library. This library was a separate room from the living room, and had shelves for books, my mother’s desk, and the chiming clock that formed part of the soundtrack of my early life. (I even read some of my mother’s old nursing textbooks, and will never forget the garish photos of various organs and diseases. I still have nightmares about the smallpox picture.)
I had most of the Judy Bolton series back then. I don’t remember getting rid of them, but I must have cleared them out during a move at some point. Still, I remember those books with the mottled pink cover (the Nancy Drew covers were the same, only they were blue) as if I’d seen them just the other day.
The point of all this nostalgia is that I found a few of the books on the Gutenberg Project website. I certainly hope the site is as they claim, that these books are in the public domain, because I downloaded the few Judy Bolton’s that I could. And now I am reading them.
I’ve always known that books connect us to the others who have read them, a much deeper connection than from writer to reader. I’ve known that certain books connect us to the ages — to the people long dead who also read those very stories.
What I didn’t realize until rereading these Judy Bolton books is how books can connect us to our past selves.
Although I don’t remember the stories so much, I remember the characters, the feel of the stories, and the feel of the books themselves. And I remember reading them.
I’m holding a Nook in my hand instead of the hard back book, but the words are the same. And I feel . . . timeless. The person I am today is reading the same book I last read fifty years ago. It seems miraculous. The older person who lived so much during the intervening years — loving, sharing, grieving — is, through these familiar words, connected to that girl child who could only dream and hope of a life that was to come.
I imagine there will come a time, perhaps fifteen to twenty years from now when I am elderly and frail and rereading these books, that I will look back to me on this day and think the same of this me as I think of that little girl me — that I was young and still full of hopes and dreams.
I imagine I will think back to all that has connected me to myself through the years, and I will be grateful for all breaths I took and all the books I have inhaled.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator