The books... they changed me.  

Posted by Elysabeth Williams

This started out as a post on The Books that Changed Me; however, it morphed into something else.

The house where I grew up was originally a two bedroom, one bathroom house built in the 60’s. It had a smallish, galley kitchen with olive green linoleum that led into a formal dining room one way, and a separate door that went into a wood paneled study. Parallel to the study was the living room where my grandparents’ living room suit and piano eventually sat. The rest of the house consisted of two bedrooms and the bathroom. It had a den added on and at some point after my parents moved in with my big sister; they converted the study in the middle of the house to a third bedroom. That became my bedroom.

My mom was a stay at home mom through most of my childhood. It was only when I turned eight or nine did she start working again - at the local county library. At this time, she would bring home stack after stack of books, sometimes drafting my sister and I into helping her schlep into the house. She would devour them daily, sending stacks back by the end of the week. Robert Heinlein was her favorite and my most remembered, followed by Douglas Adams and anything that had to do with the Foxfire series, which she eventually bought the entire collection and passed on to me.

During the school years, Mom would wake up with my Dad, drink coffee with him, and enjoy the silence. She would sit in the same spot on her grandfather’s sofa in the formal living room, beside my room. For some time, the head of my bed was on the same wall as where she sat. I would hear her click on the lamp and the ‘clunk’ of her coffee cup as she sat it down on the end table. The smell of Folgers’s would waft into my room... sometimes actually waking me. I could hear her shift on the rough, brown, diamond patterned upholstery, and sometimes even turn the pages of these books…perhaps I imagined the pages, but I know I still feel the safety of her always being there in that seat. She would sit there off and on all day, reading, drinking coffee, or mello-yello, depending on the time of year. It was a constant in my life.

When I started to read, I picked up whatever happened to be available at the house. While still very young, I read the normal Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books along with my parents. When I started to read things I was more personally interested in, I read per her recommendation, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and The Cat Who Walked Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein. Another world, another galaxy even, opened up for me. Reading.  I read all she had.

I started reading, what I guess would be called Young Adult now – and found Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. It was the first book I can recall feeling really drained afterward. I loved the story, but I couldn’t imagine being left alone. I couldn’t imagine not having my mother or father there for me. It was foreign. I felt so much for those kids. I read the next one in the series, but it never reached the feverish pitch the first one had. They left me really sad and wanting more in a book.

When I turned 11, my mom was still working for the library and taking us to the local used bookstore where she had oodles of credit. She would take stacks of books she’d bought from the library sales or from the stores and swap them out. Over and over we’d go with her, lost in the halls of never ending shelves of never ending stories. The converted house was musty and vaguely dusty, filled to the ceiling with titles. I got lost in the romance section one day and pulled out one book that really looked like something. The cover was bright reddish-orange and the title letters were huge. There was a woman in a light colored, flowing dress held by a large, caped man on the back of a horse. I read the blurb and was captivated.

There, in the floor of the book house in a small Georgia town,  I read the first few pages to The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodwiss and was forever changed on reading. Not really thinking of the sex, because come on, I was still eleven, I brought the book to my mom and showed it to her. She thumbed through it, read the back cover, and nodded approval. She never batted an eye. Just put it in the pile, she said. I remember the ancient (to me) woman behind the counter giving me a weird look. I didn’t realize why until after I’d finished the book.

It got so common for me to get romances; I would just come in and make a b-line to the section after only a wave to the clerk. Never once did they question on my reading choices.

Mom would bring me books home that she thought I’d like and after a time, we started trading. She still liked her sci-fi and I found my niche in romance. She always encouraged and never told me something was over my head or thought, perhaps we should wait. She told me she wanted me to love reading as much as she did. To realize there was more than the obvious, within reach and right in front of our noses.

Now that she’s passed on, I’m able to realize what books are to me. They are the safety of knowing she’d always be there with one on that uncomfortable 1940’s couch -  the safety that there are words and worlds beyond what we see and a hope for better and ultimately,  a happily ever after.
 Thanks, mom. 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at Wednesday, June 16, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

11 comments

GothhicGoddess  

Beautiful.

June 17, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Beautiful post. I loved the description of your old house and Mom on the couch. I can hear the clunk of the coffee cup too.

My first romance was The Honey is Bitter by Violet Winspear. I still have it too.

Funny what shapes our writing life.

June 17, 2010 at 8:24 AM

What a lovely post. Your mom sounds like she was an amazing woman.

I think my first romance book --well, not a real romance, but definitely full of sex scenes and with a central relationship-- was Clan of the Cave Bear, when I was 11. Man, what an education that was. :)

June 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM

What a poignant story.

Could visualize your house quite well with your vivid description - green linoleum and all!

Waking up to the smell of coffee? So that's where it started! :)

Your mother was very wise. What a lovely gift to pass on to you.

June 17, 2010 at 9:56 AM

GG: Thanks <3

PW: Thanks. I haven't read that one. I'll have to look it up!

Amy: I remember reading Clan of Cave Bear too and thinking.. woah. lol

Marisa: I believe you're right. lol

June 17, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Aw! I love this. Your mom was awesome.

Miss you, Mrs. C!

June 17, 2010 at 12:06 PM

I too attribute my love of reading to my mom. WE LOVE YOU, MOMS!

June 17, 2010 at 12:22 PM

Yep, I owe my mom as well.

And...*jumps up and down* The Wolf and the Dove! YAY! I didn't even name a romance on my list, bc I read soooooo many I couldn't find any way to pick jus tone. But I did love her books! :D

June 17, 2010 at 1:41 PM

YBS Thanks <3

Gretchen: Yeah we do! Go Moms! :D

Debra: I remembered the OLD cover (the orangey one) and couldn't remember the name of the book. I thought it was Virginia Henley but she was added to my book shelf later. I wish I could find an old copy for posterity! LOL

June 17, 2010 at 3:29 PM

This was a beautiful post.

My mom wasn't a crazy reader while I was growing up, but she did read (I've breathed new reading interests into her lately). She was a single mother and while she was fixing meals, I would read. Sometimes, I had to eat meals alone, like breakfast, if she was getting ready for work. I would always read then. It became such a habit, that at age 31, I cannot eat alone without reading a book - even if I go out for lunch alone. It's kinda sad, but books are a major part of my life. My husband is thankful that I don't read while eating dinner with him. :)

June 17, 2010 at 4:23 PM

Smash, I don't think it's sad at all :D

June 18, 2010 at 4:40 PM

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