A young toddler’s intro to literature with a pile of Little Golden Books. Memories of a busy family and sneaking away to read.
Let’s welcome Nancy to Empress Tea! This is her first lovely piece for us. Be sure to read the whole thing for the Little Golden Books surprise ending!
It’s not that I am purposely lying. This is a record of a lived experience and its expression is completely unique to me and not agreed upon by others present during its occurrence… This memory is not only selective, but entirely from one perspective: mine.
I doubt very much that if one of my sisters wrote her perspective of this memory whether it would even resemble the same family or household. This is not because I purposely embellish or limit the truth, but merely because I can only speak for what was going on in my busy mind at the time.
Perhaps my imagination and quirky nature have been carved by early experience. I feel very comfortable in owning that I have extremely early memories. My earliest vivid memories have been fighting to maintain their resolution over the years, especially because of my sisters’ interpretations of history and their sibling related desires to prove me wrong. As the youngest of six girls it is only appropriate that they regularly attempt to push me back into position as the youngest. The bottom rung… the baby… naive Nancy – one can never escape birth order.
I say this with good humour of course because they truly love me.
My earliest recollection is of watching my mother rinse my cloth diaper in the flushing toilet. With me staring around the corner of the bathroom door. Unaware at the time that she had probably been completing this action for many years, having born six children. I explicitly remember her humming as she completed the task, not angry or resentful about her work, or impatient, but rather accepting of this ever necessary task. Let’s face it…who hums while rinsing cloth diapers? In hindsight I feel that because I was capable of observing this moment and reading her attitude, that I was very likely capable of using the toilet on my own. Clearly I enjoyed her care and may have been reveling in an extended toddlerhood as her final ‘baby’.
It must have been mere months later that I was being trusted to go to bed pajama’d and diaper-free when I independently solved a problem using literature. Amazing for my age! I lay restless upstairs in a drafty attic room that I shared with my sister, attempting to invite the sandman to carry me away. Trying to obey the firm instructions, “Go to bed!” that had been loudly delivered more than once. But I had decided that it wasn’t time to go to bed quite yet. I snuck down the worn wooden stairs noiselessly in the hazy evening light and was delighted to discover a favourite collection of Little Golden Books near the bottom steps.
The family was forever stacking piles of items intended for upstairs on the bottom steps in hopes that they would be carried up by the next person to ascend, though this rarely worked. Regularly, the books caused one to trip and sharply bruise one’s shins, but arguments over who was responsible for which pile loudly dominated and pride did not allow us to bend toward safety. I was in my element with piles of these neglected chores. The joy that came from being secretly awake was very rewarding. I could hear a ball game on the television from the living room. I didn’t know what Mom was up to, but she was surely folding laundry or relaxing with a book. When I heard footsteps coming near my closed door hideaway I maintained a perfect silence and rigidness unparalleled by statues… I was proud of myself for executing this ruse, as my mother was not easily fooled. Perhaps the rigid stance precipitated what next occurred, as my bowels were not usually active at night. I urgently needed to go ‘number two’ and for a reason that completely eludes me to this day, I felt I could take care of this function without going to the bathroom and no one would ever need to know that I was secretly awake. Or perhaps I was in the middle of being toilet trained. Possibilities and reasoning around this incident have always puzzled me. I like to believe today that my age this particular day was under 3. Mostly because I simply refuse to believe in the level of stupidity around what occurs next as existing within me post 3 years of age. Regardless of how I feel about this now, however, to take care of my pressing business many years ago, I proceeded to squat on the wooden step and grunt my way to relief. There were fumes of course, but they didn’t particularly bother me.
What bothered me was the fact that I felt sticky. Lacking much variety in materials to choose from to remedy this new situation, I brilliantly chose the paper product most readily available: the precious books. I don’t want to be too descriptive here… The books have firm cardboard covers and tough pages, so I do remember some pretty foreign sensations, but overwhelmingly I was quite dismissive of any consequences from my actions, and indeed felt a level of pride for independence in handling the situation. I continued ‘reading’. The fumes I ignored and dismissed eventually permeated the crevices around the wooden door, my only shield from adults. My mother’s superior sniffer led her to an investigation. Initially there was dismay and surprise as my presence quite confused her but immediately her good housekeeping skills assessed the situation. While I began begging for the salvation of my precious books as I felt the sting of her indignation, she retreated and returned with a garbage bag. She did utter “I’ll see what I can do,” during my frantic wailing, but her tone revealed that I need not expect to see them again. I believe I experienced a very long and sleepless night fretting the loss of the delightful tales.
The exact titles were never replaced, though Mom was very generous with books throughout my growing years. To this day I feel a sense of guilt when I see Little Golden Books. I have moments, when seeing the lion and the elephant, that take me back crisply to the half-lit wooden stairs. Perhaps I learned more respect for lost stories by being firmly denied their enduring pleasure. Perhaps I gained true appreciation for the written word this early in my life. Perhaps I faced destructive natural consequences for the first time. Whatever caused this memory to become cemented in my brain, pages are now appreciated and embraced. Thus began my relationship with literature and it continues to shape my life.