In the 6th grade I moved to a big house on a small street. There weren’t many children in the neighborhood, but the handful on our street were all boys the same ages as my brothers. While they roamed the street thick as thieves, I stayed inside reading and writing on my mom’s electric blue typewriter. Normal tween behavior, like TV watching, was out of the question thanks to my parents’ devotion to OnTV and a firm refusal to order MTV. I could lie and say it was all very tragic, but even then I loved reading and writing.
My parents had one of those large, leather bound book collections, so I mostly read the classics out of pleasure but also because my mom refused to buy the shorter young adult novels that normal girls my age read. It took one month into my summer before the 7th grade before my ability to read quickly and compulsively put my mom off expensive trips to the bookstore and forever made me in her eyes, “addicted to words and incapable of savoring a good book.” She bought me three or four books for the summer that I devoured within a week at the expense of sleep, food, and sunlight. So she made rules. No books with large type, less than 300 pages, or pictures. All in all, it wasn’t a bad deal. Addicts aren’t choosy.
As for my writing, I never made it past the second chapter, but the plot always centered around adoption and a long lost heir to the throne discovered and returned to royalty. I was nothing if not transparent. And optimistic.
Eventually I worked my way through the three leather bound classics I could understand (and you know what? they totally had pictures) so in desperation I moved on to encyclopedias. Yes, I was 12 years old and read encyclopedias for fun. Hey, I never said I was cool, and if you look through the archives there are pages of evidence to the contrary. If it helps, my favorite set (we had two) was thin, silver, and entirely on animals. I spent a lot of time reading about monkeys.
Shortly before the end of school this year, Mikey brought home a flier announcing the end of year library sale. Each year the school library clears out a portion of its collection, and the students are allowed to purchase whatever they like. I’ll admit, I wanted to show up, fist full of dollars, and ransack the place first. I was good. I refrained from making a spectacle of myself and gave Mikey a dollar on the day of the sale. I never once encouraged him to buy anything by Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maud Montgomery, or Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, I forgot all about the sale until I cleaned out his book bag later that afternoon and out fell a picture dictionary from 1975.
It’s the most impossibly wonderful book.
When I told Mikey this book was only three years younger than me, he looked at it like it would crumble into dust. I was pleased enough with his purchase to ignore his concern.
While he did his homework, I pored over all the pictures and squealed.
I don’t know how long we sat at the table looking at all the pictures and reviewing all the definitions, but it was an incredible amount of fun.
I had to ask him why he chose the dictionary. Surely there were other books more interesting. Scooby Doo? He’s brought books home from that series countless times. Anything with ghosts, zombies, or superheroes, really. He just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s the book that looked the most interesting.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic, and that’s when it hit me. There is a strong possibility this kid is taking his cousin to Prom.