Monday, October 22, 2012

Sander Street: A Father's Classic Gift

Dad takes a picture of me on a sick day from school
A more modern Amazon set of
Children's Classics


Sometimes during those long nights on Sander Street, waiting for Dad’s heavy footsteps on the wooden porch,  We'd get a surprise. He might come through the door carrying a big sack of White Castle hamburgers.  Maybe Empress Chili.  One night it was Chinese in those little white cartons with the wire handles.

But one particular middle-of-the-night, he really gave me a surprise.

With an eighth grade education, my father had a secret fondness for reading  and education.  Grandma and I may have been the only ones who knew it. 

Dad harped on me all through school for one reason or another.  First it was my handwriting in the second grade.  He called it “chicken scratching.”  Indeed, he had beautiful penmanship on his side.  Next, it was reading, and had it not been for his pushing me I might not have become a book  junkie. 

To reinforce the reading wish he had for me, one night he came in a little earlier carrying a brown rectangular box, which I spied through my half-closed eyelids from the rollaway bed.  He went to the living room first to talk to my mother, which was usual.  I wondered if he’d brought her a present, if that’s what was in the brown cardboard box. 

Then I heard Mom say, “Wait until morning.”  With that, he turned and huffed into the bedroom, still carrying the box, then stopped, and knelt by the side of the rollaway bed.   I opened my eyes before he could say my name.  Excitement danced in his eyes.  He lifted the box onto the bed next to me and said, “Look, I got you something.” 

I sat up and pulled back the already opened flaps on the box top and saw eight hardback book spines in a neat row, all in different colors. 

Dad loved giving gifts.  He always gave them immediately, as soon as he got them.  He couldn't wait.  
He pulled one of the books  out of the box and proudly announced, “Look, this is Heidi. This is a set of children’s classics.”  He handed the Heidi book to me. 

I remember touching the book gently, running my fingers over the bookcloth, reading the imprinted title and author’s name, Johanna Spyri.   I’d already read the library’s copy of Heidi, and Dad must have noticed me sitting on the bottom step of the old staircase reading when no one was around. 

He pulled the rest of the books out of the box, Treasure Island, Five Little Peppers, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Little Men, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn, and-one-by-one placed them in a pile on the crumpled covers.  I was spellbound.  I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to say. 

We were not a demonstrative family, especially when it came to outward shows of affection.  I must have thanked him, though.  I don't remember.

I stayed mad at my father so much for drinking and driving Mom crazy, and here he goes and does something so amazing. 

All Mom said was something to the effect of, "He should've waited for your birthday."

The next morning, or when it was time to go to school, I lugged that big heavy box of books the two blocks to St. George to show my prize off to everyone.  I was so proud of my father that day.  I wanted the nuns and other kids to see what a good father, what a smart father, I had.  He bought me BOOKS!  

I had to hide those books of course, up high, in a closet, so the little kids wouldn’t get them and tear them up.  I wish I still had them, but teenage years soon came around, and they were put up in an attic somewhere, at one of our houses, and I never saw them again. 

But the memory of that night is still with me, as well as another night a few years later, when Dad surprised me again.  But that’s another story of the years in Mt. Auburn.

When I showed my books to Grandma, tears shone in her eyes.  My father couldn’t afford books when he was young.  Grandma said my father was always a reader and loved books.  He wanted me to have something he wished he could have had. 

The gift of those books, when it wasn’t Christmas, or my birthday, or anything, changed me in several ways.   I learned to treasure books more than I probably would have otherwise.  And I felt different about my father.   I would continue getting angry at him, but it was like I learned something about him I hadn't known before.

The book junkie's wall of books today.  My husband Gary and youngest son Jeff
are also book junkies.

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