I remember curling up in a nook on a bean bag or something equally squishy, something I sank into, in my elementary school library. I pulled out Horton Hears a Who, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Although I was capable of reading more challenging books, I chose those because I could take them in quickly, one after the other, while curled up in that nook, amused, delighted—enchanted—by Seuss’s inimitable rhyme and fanciful artwork.
One summer morning I was walking with Mom to a day camp she had signed me up for, where I played Red Rover for the first time ever and the leaders handed us magnifying lenses and told us to watch the insects and plants in a four-by-four-inch patch of grass that was ours alone to watch. I stared closely, choosing to be interested in a fat black carpenter ant that passed through my shady, mossy spot along the fence.
While I was walking to the camp along the uneven sidewalk, I noticed reddish-purple stains on the concrete slabs and asked Mom what caused them.
“Mulberries,” she said.
I thought of Dr. Seuss. “Mulberries?” I didn’t believe they were real.
“Yes.” She pointed to the tree where much of the fruit still drooped. “See?”
I saw. Amazed that mulberries actually existed and even more amazed to be told, furthermore, that they were edible, I tried one. I don’t remember what I thought of the taste; only that it stained my finger and thumb, and that I ate a mulberry the same day I realized they existed. For the entire week that I walked along that stretch of sidewalk to the day camp, I would remark, “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street,” though I don’t know if I repeated it in my head or out loud.
I was drawn by the simplest things—sucked in by a magnifying glass, a mulberry, or even the mental feast I knew as the library. Our family frequented a normal-sized library in the town where we used to live, where my mom worked even after we moved to the farm. But the closest library to our farm was in the same tiny town where I walked along the sidewalk to that day camp.
That library was in a building that seemed no bigger than a suburban storage barn. Navigating the tall, tight stacks felt something like slipping through a mouse maze built for a science fair project, but I found a little room, another nook, lined with Nancy Drew mysteries.
I’d curl up in there, in that building smelling of musty books and dusty shelves, and read most of a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery before my mom came back from the laundromat or the hair dresser, ready to go. I’d check out an armful of books, churning through pages on the five-minute drive home, devouring stories, enchanted.
Before long, I realized I could do more than read for amusement; I could get answers to my questions at the library. The resources were right there at my fingertips—literally, via the stiff cards lining wooden drawers of the card catalog.
I checked out book after book from the Foxfire series after reading My Side of the Mountain and pored over instructions for creating indoor habitats to raise and study tadpoles or crickets. I checked out books on making soup and baking homemade bread when I went through a vegetarian phase after reading Diet for a Small Planet.
I read books on writing, too. These I shoved deep into my bag, not wanting to draw attention to my interest in self expression. My parents were journalists; my brother, though still a student, was clearly a gifted creative writer. My family never considered me a writer and instead dubbed me the athlete of the family. So I ran track and played softball, secretly lugging home books on writing and completing the exercises on lined paper up in my bedroom, scribbling descriptive paragraphs or snippets of poetry, only to blush at my clumsy efforts and quickly toss them into the trash.
I wanted to tell stories, write useful, engaging articles; to create works that encouraged, entertained, or inspired.
I wanted to enchant others the same way I’d been enchanted.
A library nook and a pile of Dr. Seuss; a magnifying glass and a patch of grass under the shade of a mulberry tree; nonfiction books cataloged using the Dewey Decimal system.
Who knows what can draw someone in?
Who can predict what will enchant?
And so you do Ann. I loved this. I can see you curled up in that little place. It is just magical what books can do for us; what power there is in the written word. I’m so glad you followed your heart into writing. You bless.
Oh, Linda, I’m glad you have done the same. You, too, bless.
Megan Willome says
It’s the part about your family never considering you a writer that got to me. How do I keep from doing that to my kids?
Early in my parenting, a friend told me that her parents pegged her “the funny one” and her sister “the smart one.” The thing is, my friend is indeed funny, but she’s also incredibly intelligent; and her sister is definitely smart, but she’s also hysterical. They were both…both.
So I ran with that. I insisted to my kids that they may find they are similarly gifted and that’s okay. Maybe they’ll all three love photography or cross country or writing. Well, I took my second daughter our to dessert one evening and talked about life and interests. She confessed that she was frustrated because she didn’t have something that was all hers–she wanted to be the ____________ one! She just didn’t know what that distinguishing trait or interest would be, but she wanted to stand out from the sisters!
Go figure. You can’t win.
Turns out she does have a strong interested in graphics and design, and the others are only mildly interested at the hobby level. So she will, probably, have something that is all hers.
Each of them is so different, I’m not surprised that they have indeed discovered something they want to do, and that it is different from the others.
Sheila Lagrand says
This post shows me so many connections we share! I still remember that my first act as an official junior high person (that is, the day I completed 6th grade) was to beg a ride to the library for my ADULT LIBRARY CARD. Because in my town, finishing sixth grade entitled one to that privilege of no longer being confined to the choices in the children’s section.
How enchanting to discover these common threads in the looms of our lives!
“Choosing to be interested” is maybe where we allow ourselves to become susceptible to enchantment.
And being pegged for something that didn’t feel like me–or in my case didn’t set me apart, in my mind, from my siblings–been there too.
And track. Did that. One of our neighbors (on our tiny little rural street of 18 houses, tucked into a canyon in the foothills) just won the high school state title in the 1600 meters, setting all kinds of records at 4:00.83. We’re so proud of him!
Oh, how I loved the adult nonfiction section. If I thought long about it, I’ll bet I could remember a moment when I stumbled on an inappropriate book. But I don’t recall doing anything more than glance through it and stick it back on the shelf.
How else would I have found those Foxfire or writing books if I didn’t have access to the adult section? I’m trying to figure out if I had to wait for an adult card…maybe I would grab a book from over there and read it while in the library. I spent many hours there. Many, many contented hours.
Congratulations to your local track star! That’s fantastic! I was only impressive in our county meets. As a sprinter, I did pretty well running against other rural white girls, but couldn’t compete with the speeds attained by the city girls who trained under quality coaches (no offense to Coach Girton, should he stumble across this comment).
I just can’t imagine you not being “the writer”! I love your answer to Megan above. It’s such a tricky thing, this parenting well. I especially love that you took your daughter out to dessert to “sweeten” her up. These are the things that, I think, will allow our kids to feel special enough to pursue their interests–that first bit of unconditional love they get from us. And Ann? I sure am enchanted by the stories of the young you. I just know we would have been buddies had we met up back then.
” These I shoved deep into my bag, not wanting to draw attention to my interest in self expression.” I think you have just unlocked a mystery for me! Thank you.
thesavingmom (jessica) says
Love it. I often wonder what is enchanting my kiddos as I watch them grow. I know they are often my source for enchantment these days. ~Jessica
Hazel I. Moon says
So varied and so different are my children. My son is the reader, and our foster daughter is the only one who writes. Mulberries — I was not aware that they were eatable! Great post as always.
So beautifully written! I enjoyed every word.
Charity Singleton says
Ann — These childhood stories are emerging in all kinds of wonderful places. I love it.
I could smell those books as you described them because I curled up in that same corner with those same books only in a different library in a different town. But I was there. Probably a lot of us were.
I don’t know if my parents believed me when I decided I wanted to be a writer, or not. I guess I still don’t know if they believe me. But I keep reading those books, keep jotting down those thoughts. I’m so glad you found your way.