by Carla Procida
I was seven years old when my mother introduced me to her storybook world. A lover of the written word since childhood, she counted it a joy watching my own love affair with the printed page begin one fateful June afternoon in '64.
With few exceptions, every book becomes my best friend as I share in its romance and adventure. Always thirsty for the next treasured tale, my eyes drink in chapter after chapter until drunk with passion from a night a good book spends in my arms. Unfortunately, the sun reminds me the real world awaits, dull in comparison to the one I'm always forced to leave. Historical romance novels in particular are dearest to me. Like my mom, you will still find me quite often sound asleep, with a book laying across my heart.
Come with me my friend, I’ll take you on a trip to my storybook world before my family arrives. It starts on the first worn marble step of Westbury Public Library, a magical place nestled under a row of Sycamores in a quaint middle class neighborhood twenty miles east of New York City. My parents settled there in the 40‘s, a place where horse drawn wagons traveled not many years before. I was more familiar with Chevy Station Wagons and supped up hot rods.
The moment I laid my eyes on that grand edifice, I considered it my second home. From the outside it appeared stoic, the cement columns towering, yet I had no doubt it was a friend to small children and struggling seniors. Donning its intimidating suit of rich red bricks and white trimmed collar, it would come to remind me of a pre-civil war home described in Gone With The Wind. As soon as I stepped through its doors I was a part of its enchanting world. I would fantasize, putting myself in the shoes of Becky in Huckleberry Finn (or should I say bare feet), Ann Shirley of Green Gables and even Nancy Drew, unraveling twisted plots of espionage.
Forty years later, I’m standing on that same step in the back of my mind. I feel like one of the recipients on Extreme Home Makeover as I slowly open the creaking door and peek in. With wide open eyes I see my own special world furnished with imagination, holding in its oak arms a thousand classics ready to be placed in my own. I tiptoe down each aisle reverently, as if I were in church. Every volume lined up on either side in perfect order, a literary army standing at attention, then at ease as their delicate pages once again turn to the oohs and ahhs of this reader.
I can honestly say I feel the same excitement as I did at seven taking in the view of this breathtaking place. I caress the huge marble fireplace, trimmed in rich polished wood. I can still feel the flames behind its thick metal grates as a stooped over janitor stokes the wood, sending sparks upward to my delight. Once listening to Hansel and Gretal, it was almost eerie how the fire fit in with the story. Its warmth never failed to blanket our small group of listeners, transfixed on the expressive face of our storyteller caught up in the fable with us. She would takes us from our mundane lives to castles on the Rhine and Safari’s in the jungles of Africa.
More than once I was a princess, a queen, Cinderella and even a young sleuth all under the range of voices chosen to lead us on these short but breathless journeys. As I got older, my own inner voice would read with fervency the chariot ride in Ben Hur and the final scene in Wuthering Heights. I could be on the moon in Slaughter House Five in the morning and by the evening in Sicily with The Godfather. I’ve traveled up mountain peaks and have walked alone on the plains of Tibet, from cover to cover. Once I saw an elderly gentlemen with a nurse at his side, wanting to escape from his wheelchair and climb a mountain for an afternoon. He did, just by opening up a book.
I’m sitting now on the unusual couch in front of the fireplace, sunken into the floor. We used to imagine it was a secret hideout uncovered by the librarians. I look up at the scrolled artwork masterfully engraved over the mantle, heating up under the embers glowing once again. I wish you could breathe in the aroma of this place, rising above the brick spires. I’ve never breathed such an unusual but captivating scent and I’ve come to my own conclusion about it. I believe the walls absorbed every story, dabbing each word behind their oak ears as did the children during summer reading hour. Mother and child could escape the heat to skate alongside Hans Christian Anderson or during winter recess, enjoy hot cider with the Cratchet family.
You would never believe the Westbury Public Library has an elevator now. Will wonders ever cease? The old gent has had a face lift of sorts! Why not, it is the twenty first century. Did I ever tell you I hate change? It's getting late so I'll take one more look around before checking out Pride and Prejudice and War and Peace. I wonder if I picked them with my relatives in mind? If I could I’d remain forever in this make believe place or until the last book was read.
I press the button next to the elevator, the one with an arrow pointing down. Moments later I step over its shiny chrome threshold, saddened as the steel doors close on my storybook world. When they reopen I walk slowly out, making my way to a desk where there are no librarians, only tired nurses and a doctor barking orders.
I am about to ask the head nurse about my mom, but before I get the words past the lump in my throat, she tells me "Your mom passed away just a few minutes ago. "
No fantasy or made up tale, reality hitting me in the face. I turn to go, tempted to press the button pointing up, wanting to get lost in storybook land again, but I can't. There’s a funeral to plan and family to deal with, who by the way will be the death of me yet.
I think I hear my sister’s car pulling in the driveway so I’ll have to talk to you tomorrow diary. Thanks for letting me share this little story, its been like a balm for my soul. This is how I choose to remember my mom, not as the eighty pound shell of a women she was six months ago. Damn the cursed cancer, if it thinks it will steal memories from me too!
If you could take every sad ending you ever read, and wrap them around your heart, that is how I feel right now. So tonight when I am finally alone, for you mom, I think I’ll crawl into bed with a good book and crisp juicy apple, believing you’re doing the same under some glorious tree in Heaven. Hold that place, one day I’ll be joining you there!
Carla: I am a novice writer with only one poem published and one short story published. 51 years old married to a wonderful man for 31 years. I have Parkinsons 12 years but doing well. My story is true, more like an essay of sorts. Contact Carla.