When I was a child, I suffered from being the baby in a family that thought they were finished with babies when I came along. My sister was 10 years older, my brother 8 years older, and any time I wanted a new toy I was told "go check the attic" where I would paw through old chemistry sets, cabbage patch dolls, and choose your own adventure novels until I landed on something that could entertain me.|
When I was 5, I found an old and dusty book in a box in the attic. It was thick, with gilded edges and had a beautiful hard cover with flecks of gold and brown, patterned like old wallpaper. I dug it out and showed it to my mother - "Oh, that's just a book of fairy tales. That's probably going to be tough for you. We should find some more Little Golden Books to read at the library."
I could already read, but I hadn't yet built a vocabulary that would allow me to actually comprehend many words beyond the basics. However, this book was the prettiest damn thing I'd ever laid my eyes on. I was already very aware that my brother and my sister went to school for double the hours I spent at pre-school and I developed a plan I thought was quite logical: I'd get home, every day from my half day of school, and read that damn gilded book until one of them got home. As soon as my brother walked in the door (he was usually the first to get home) I would attack him with questions. "What's a cobbler? What's a loom? What's a serf?"
This reader's digest compilation was absolutely fantastic - it included original English translations of most of the world's most popular fairy tales. They were my bread and butter on long lazy Sundays and the stories filled my brain before Disney had a chance to bastardize their beauty (yes, I was the cool kid at birthday parties who would argue that Rose Red was missing from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.) I still have this book with it's collection of 90+ stories, and, much like I imagine people turn to a beloved copy of a Bible in hard times, there is a rarely a month where I don't pick it up off the shelf. It has followed me from Boston to LA and it's binding has become so broken that it's the first thing moved to a new apartment and the last thing removed.
My niece (my sister's daughter) is more my spitting image in spirit and looks than anyone has ever been in my family. I'm sitting here now, debating whether or not I should pass on the book that used to be her mother's, perhaps getting it rebound for the occasion. She's a smart and careful girl, the oldest instead of the youngest, and passing it on as a Christmas gift is probably one of the more logical things I could do.
It's funny how I could act injured 22 years ago about having to rifle through boxes for others old toys and yet I, as a 27 year old married woman, am clinging to an old dusty and broken book because I'm unsure if I can give it up to the daughter of the woman who originally owned it.