Friday, June 21, 2013

Books as a Sanctuary

It is past midnight and I should be in bed. 

I spent seven of the last eight hours at Family Night at my oldest's Boy Scout Camp...or on the road to get to its lovely location: Damascus, Arkansas. And with the four other boys in the back of the van, it felt like we were driving all the way to the Middle Eastern Damascus and possibly ready for some Peace Talks when we got there.

When we got home and carried the (very dirty) little boys up to their beds, I remembered that tomorrow is another Swim Meet. That starts at 7am. And it lasts six hours. And Daddy will be out of town. And I am on the volunteer roster.


So, I let my honey crawl into bed and I headed to Walmart. (What did we do without 24hour grocery stores?) I stocked up on Pop-Tarts, Blueberry Muffins and a box of Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and headed home. I should have gone to bed just then. But I had to check email for the list of swimming events for tomorrow and then I found a new post from a favorite blogger.... you know how it goes.

This time, when I read that post, it opened up a tender area in my heart that I don't talk about very much. 

The post, by Fizzygrrl, is about the power of words and writing. And how it saved her from 8th grade. 

(Caution: Though I love Fizzygrrl and her messages and emotions, she does use a lot of profanity. Not for the tender reader. Caveat Lector.)

Fizzygrrl's honesty touched me and I couldn't go to sleep until I wrote a little something about books and stories and how they saved me. She was saved from the cruelty of the classroom. I was saved from the chaos of my homelife.

Now, my family sometimes reads this blog, and I'm not going to air any dirty laundry. But just the facts of our situation during my middle school years might illustrate just a little.

My Dad decided to change careers when I was in 3rd grade. He was going to become an attorney. So by 4th grade, we'd moved from Iowa to Oklahoma City so he could go to Law School. 

For anyone who's never been to Oklahoma City, the place is huge. Sprawling. There are no geographical boundaries on this place, it just goes on and on, bleeding into Mustang, Moore, Midwest City.  I had already lived in several towns and states before then; the place I'd lived the longest being the well-known truckstop town of Winnemucca, Nevada. 

Yeah, I was going places.

So, we move to this huge city. My dad starts law school. Night school. Because he worked days at the courthouse as a bailiff to support our family of six. 

But its not quite enough, so my mom takes on babysitting in our home. Four little kids at first, then sometimes as many as eight. 
And the biggest house we can afford close to the university is a two bedroom rental. My bedroom was about 10' x 10' square with a set of bunks on each side. The boys' and the girls'.

It was snug, I'll tell you, but we had friends with a family of nine in a three bedroom and they had a set of bunks in the dining room, so we thought we had it good! At least we could take turns in the bedroom changing with the door shut.

But by the time I reached Middle School, the snug little house was beginning to feel cramped. We'd all grown in size and personality.

(This is the actual house. Someone spruced it up, but I bet it's still tiny inside. )

And we'd also grown in appetites. In addition to babysitting Monday through Friday, my mom picked up a paper route in our neighborhood.
She got up at 4:30 every morning, got her papers, came home and woke up a few kids to help.
Sundays everybody helped, because the papers were so monstrous. So we folded papers in our living room for a half hour, then loaded up our over-the-shoulder-paper-bags and the backseat of our Maverick. 

My mom would park it every few blocks and we'd do our side of the street and come back for more papers. It was great in the summer. The worst kind of awful in the winter.

Some days, we'd groan and refuse to get up and my mom would do it on her own.
Hundreds of papers.
She is amazing.

Then it would be breakfast and the babysitting kids would be dropped of by their parents and we'd get dressed for school and start our day for real.

School. Homework. Dinner. Family Scriptures. Stories and Bed.

Start all over again.

But that part you just read and skipped over...Stories?

That was the best part of the day. 
My mom would read to us. She was a wonderful reader. She did all the voices and would speed up or pause in all the right places. She also told "head stories". We begged her to write them down someday and publish them. Most are forgotten, now. But she would come up with tales that were exciting and adventuresome and had children just the same ages as us, doing all sorts of wonderful things that we longed to do.

But if Storytime was the best part of the day, then Saturdays and trips to the Library were the best part of the week. We'd usually fill at least one brown grocery bag with the books we'd borrow. And I know my mother must have paid a fortune in fines over the years. 

But for me, the library was my sanctuary.

I can still remember what the Bell Isle Branch looked like and its been over 20 years since I've set foot in the place. It was huge and circular with floor to ceiling windows that alternated with bookshelves. It was spacious. My family's house could fit in the open area in front of the circulation desk. 

And the stories I read...Adventures. Mysteries. Sweet Teen Romances (I loved Ned Nickerson, Nancy Drew's boyfriend). These were all escapes from the rest of the reality I faced each day.

Do any of you remember the suitcase full of books, hauled around by the heroine in "Moonrise Kingdom"?

That was me in middle school.

It wasn't the coal mines of West Virginia. I didn't live in a drug-riddled slum. But it was harsh and it was emotionally demanding. And I couldn't face it.

So I escaped.

With a book.

I still do.

I'm packing a book to the Swim Meet tomorrow, right next to the Blueberry Muffins.

Long live stories. Long live the storytellers.

These are the things that get us through. 

Was there a special book that got you through a difficult time?