Hello Friends and Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Tuesday!
Today’s topic is Bookish Memories and sharing stories of your reading life. I’m headin off to nap time right now. So I’m gonna let Mom tell you about “bookish memories” and this guy named “Uncle Norman.” Her dad’s big bro. It goes like this:
Uncle Norm smoked like a chimney, loved a roaring fire, music, and after-dinner drinks. He also loved feeding and entertaining friends, Romans and fellow countrymen. The more, the merrier. Even in retirement, Norm was a party waiting to happen.
He Loved Books
The thing I remember best about Norm – besides his fabulous culinary skills – was how much he loved books. Outside of Dad, Norm was the best-read person and most voracious reader I’ve ever met. His rambling, bougainvillea and camellia-draped house virtually sagged with books. They were everywhere, sprouting like weeds in a garden. You couldn’t sit down without first removing a book from your planned perch.
Books populated every room in the house. Ditto coffee and kitchen tables and every available space. Even the garage housed shelf after shelf of books. Everything from Chekov and Tolstoy to Lord Byron, Keats, Hawthorne, Wordsworth, Faulkner, Bronte, George Eliot and Dr. Seuss.
Summers and some Christmases, the fam would visit Concord, California or Norm and the crew would visit San Diego. As a little girl I looked forward to afternoons when I’d climb onto my uncle’s ample lap with a book.
“Well dear, what do we have today?” Norm asked, adjusting his glasses and oohing and ahing over my selection. “Ah, this is a good one!” Norm smiled, even if it was the same “one” we’d read nineteen times in the last two days.
Not surprisingly, Uncle Norm could quote entire scenes out of Shakespeare. He’d tell us about writers and literature for hours. Not lectures. These were more like command performances. Norm gobbled up books like a starving man, barely taking time to chew. After dinner Norm would regale us with his “storifying” expertise.
Leaning back in his chair, Norm cleared his throat, scratched his head and launched us into the wondrous, magical worlds of Peter and Wendy, Davy Balfour, Captain Bligh and Mr. Fletcher. Yertle the Turtle. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne. Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Little John. Mary Poppins and the Banks family. Black Beauty and Ginger. The treacherous Long John Silver. Doctor and Lucie Manette. Edmond Dantes and the Chateau D’If. Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. Hawkeye and Chingachgook. So many more.
Like Fine Silver
I listened to Norm, rapt, as words fell from his lips like fine silver, undistorted by a single “um” or “ya know.”
Remember that Mel Gibson movie from 1993, Man Without a Face? Gibson plays Justin McLeod, a former teacher turned recluse after his face has been horribly disfigured in an auto accident. Known as “Hamburger Head” to the locals, McLeod is the subject of many rumors and wild stories.
Chuck Norstadt (Nick Stahl) is a young boy determined to get into the same military school as his father, despite his mother’s protests and his half-sisters’ mocking. Even if it means studying all through the summer. Desperate for a tutor, Chuck encounters the reclusive McLeod, and together they begin to help each other deal with a world that has shunned them both.
There’s a scene in the movie where teacher and student are reading Shakespeare. Except that they’re not really reading it. At least, not in the usual sense. They’re interpreting the text. Acting it out. Living it. Teacher and student aren’t just reading the story. They are the story.
That’s what listening to Uncle Norm tell or read a story was like.
Uncle Norm and I corresponded regularly when I was in high school and college. (We did this the old fashioned way – with paper and pen and postage. This was before email, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) A running dispute developed over an arcane theological point. I was as right as Norm was, as shy as a cyclone in making my own case on paper. I recall how disappointed I was when my uncle stopped writing. No, that’s not it. Not exactly.
His letters petered out slowly, over time. Like a guttering candle. So did mine. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I noticed I never heard from Uncle Norm anymore. I never asked why. An “oops moment.” I didn’t detect any rancor between us – we just got busy elsewhere and moved on. Another oops.
Norm died a few years later.
In one of my last missives to my uncle, I told Norm how much I liked to listen to him talk when I was a child. His rich, sonorous bass was as smooth as glass.
That was over forty years ago.
Like Coming Home
When I peruse libraries these days, I’m often greeted by stacks of best friends who were introduced to me in the rich, sonorous bass of a world-class storifier. I pause when I find a story my Uncle Norm and I shared so many years ago. And I smile. It feels like Coming Home.
Uncle Norm would love that. I must remember to tell him.
For more info. on Top Ten Tuesdays, see: That Artsy Reader Girl.
Did someone make a “bookish impression” on you when you were young? Who and How? Tell us in the Comments!