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Young kid memories
by Turtle Jones
What the hell is that?
A strange book falls in your lap from years earlier. In the back of your closet. Barely remembering the words or the title of the book but the feelings burned into the back of your mind come out when the book hits your knee. Something before you open the first page. The dust of the book is in you. Fills your nostrils and reminds you of something. Something you forgot.
There was something about this book that pulled you back. Pulled you into memories, pasts, different lives, and things yet to be done. This was a book that held you. Kept you close. Made you defend it when others would say how stupid it was.
You know what I’m talking about.
What's your favorite childhood book?
turtle picks up an apple
There was a time on a website we used to frequent that I asked a simple question. Just an easy one to help me out for some volunteer work I was doing. I asked the simple question. I was bombed with one answer and it almost made me cry. It was the book I had in mind. It was a book I had forgotten about.
See, this is this thing. Some things happened in America's past that really affected me. I knew that I couldn't really do anything about it, so when something like that happened in the UK, I was forced by my conscience to do something about it.
Confused yet? Think about it.
My only friends were cut off from cell phones as I watched the TV. My decision was made three days later.
But to do something about this, I needed to go back in past. To think of that one book I loved as a kid. Then ask others about their favorite book.
The answer kept coming back.
The Giving Tree
This book always makes me cry. Something about love and wanting to see the best for someone even thou you are going down. Something about forgetting your past but your past never forgets you. Maybe it was about love that was never returned. Forgotten about ideals as both realized they reached their end. Both friends. Both realizing it was over. Both being happy.
Or maybe it was just about a fucking tree.
I have no idea and I have no clue. All I know is that when I open this book now, I am flooded not only with the past, the present but also the future. It's a weird feeling in your gut when you can look at a certain page and know, deep down, that is where your life is right now. You are on page fourteen. The next page is building a boat from his trunk and moving away.
You have to think to yourself that this book is a progression of everything that happens in your life. Well, a small part of your life. I'm not gonna go crazy and say this story is about me, but sometimes, it does get a little weird.
Anyways. I bought a bunch of these books, all of the suggestions included and took them to where I was volunteering. I had one copy of that one and everyone loved it. It was all the kids’ favorite. After about six months, I really couldn't take what I was doing anymore and quit. I really was one of the kids favorite people there, but it was just too hard. Yeah, turtle, someone who can take it all. You think you know me? It was hard. Hard on me. But, you know what? When I left at night, I always felt a little better. That I tried to help someone. That some how they wouldn't think this world is so fucked up. That they could see things would change just by looking at me. Of course I never told them about my past and I never told them about anything drug wise, but I had a way of talking to kids that seemed to work.
Fuck if I know. They loved me.
When I did leave those books back at the place, like I was going to take them with me, I really wanted to snag The Giving Tree but I really couldn't. That book molded me into what I was. In a small way. I mean fuck, how much could you really learn from six lines on a page with bad one line drawings?
Evidently a lot. I wouldn't be here if not for a lot of those lessons in that book and I sure as fuck wouldn't be in a burn unit reading these books to kids. I just wouldn't be me. So I left the books behind. Forgot about them. Never actually thought about the book till Michele and I were talking about books a little while ago. I told her my story and she didn't say anything. I told her I kinda missed that book.
When I landed in New York, she gave me a gift.
It was that book.
That's kind of a nice thing.
Or maybe it's just an apple tree. - T
michele reads a chapter:
When I had my first kid, I couldn’t wait to sit on the couch and read to her passing my love of books on to her like my mother did me. I was so eager to get started with this that I began reading to her when she was just an infant. The first book I read was one I remember vividly from my childhood.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Mrs. Chow, Children’s Librarian. I loved that lady. Small, soft spoken and so kind. Every Tuesday we would gather in the library and sit cross legged on the floor while Mrs. Chow went over some suggested reading. The books were propped open on top of her desk and she would point to each one, telling us a little about it, why we might enjoy it. Her voice was so calming. So soothing to this kid who hated being in school, hated not being home, hated sitting alone in the back of the room. Sometimes Mrs. Chow would look directly at me when she spoke. She said to me one day - this was in third grade and I remember it exactly - that I was her favorite student because I was the only one who understood the magic of books.
One day Mrs. Chow informed us she was leaving our school. She was moving to the city and taking a job there. I held in my tears. I didn’t want anyone to see me so upset over the school librarian leaving. But she was the only one who took the time to notice me. And the only one who knew why I loved books more than people.
Mrs. Chow’s last read-aloud book was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I hung on every word. Sylvester finding the beautiful pebble. Realizing it’s magic. Having to wish he was a rock to get out of danger. And then staying a rock. Snow covering him. Wondering if he would ever get back to being a donkey again. I felt his loneliness, his isolation. My eight year old mind was letting me experience empathy for the first time. Poor Sylvester. I know how he feels. And then his poor parents. Wondering where their Sylvester went off to. Pining for him. I knew the story would have a happy ending because Mrs. Chow would not want to leave us on a sad note. But still, I felt so many emotions that day that I ended up crying myself to sleep that night, just to let go of some of what the book made me feel.
When library time was over, I went to say goodbye to Mrs. Chow. She handed me a tote bag, a canvas thing that she used to carry her books in every day. I want you to have this, she said. Inside the tote bag was a copy of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. She knew that I would love this book. She knew me. I said my farewell to Mrs. Chow and went back to class feeling sick and lonely, but also happy. Weird mix of feelings for a kid.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to the copy of the book Mrs. Chow gave me. But it was the first book I bought to read to my daughter and the first book I read out loud to her.
I sat her next to me on the couch in her little infant seat. Opened the book.
Sylvester Duncan lived with his mother and father at Acorn road in Oatsdale.
I thought of Mrs. Chow and smiled. My baby smiled back at me. Really, she smiled. Don’t even tell me it was gas.
I read on and got to the part where Sylvester says “I wish I were a rock.” I knew what would happen, of course. I knew that I would turn the pages and see Sylvester the rock, lonely and heartbroken and wanting only to get back to his parents. I knew those feelings would come back. That empathy was still there, having not changed much from that loner eight year old I was.
What I didn’t expect was for my mind to see the book in a different way. From a parent’s point of view. To look at Sylvester’s mom crying in her chair, his father staring longingly out the window, both of them wondering what happened to their child that he never came home made me feel this overwhelming sense of sadness. I looked at the child sitting next to me. My child. My Sylvester. How would I feel if my child walked out the door and never came back? I kept staring at the picture of Sylvester’s mother. That poor woman. Not knowing where her child was. It was like I was reading the book for the first time. Or reading it a completely different way than I did when I had the copy Mrs. Chow gave me and I empathized with Sylvester. Now I saw it through the parents’ eyes.
So not only did I not outgrow this book, it grew with me. Pretty cool.
And thank you, Mrs. Chow, wherever you are. -M
And now you know a little bit more about Michele and Turtle. What about you? What books from your childhooded affected your life in some way? Any special books you still have a copy of or still read once in a while? Tell us what books made you tick.