even when i was little i was an avid reader, despite having struggled learning to read (and spell, which one can debate i never really learned to do). i read anything i could find. i have vivid memories of my birthday dinners, my family being part way through cake when my uncle barged through our back door, staggering in with my present. it was usually a large box, obviously heavy if a grown man would struggle to get it through the door. he'd plop it down on the floor and prompt me to open it right then- not waiting for the family to finish their cake. he'd put his hands in his pockets and lean back, apologizing for not finding the right gift, but hoping i would like it.
i'd rip into the girly pink paper, the kind i associated with girls that weren't myself. it was clearly wrapped by a bachelor, the pink paper not quite covering the cardboard box underneath. the paper and wrapping didn't matter though. i knew what was waiting for me: books. books, books, and more books. opening the large shipping box would unveil stacks of books. it was in one of these boxes i got my first copy of the secret garden. a paperback copy of little women, one i could read outside and not worry about getting dirty. tom sawyers, huck fin, wuthering heights. classics, new books, old books, dahl, kipling, collections of stories my uncle thought i might like. harriet the spy. some were books i may have picked up in the library myself, but others were ones i don't think anyone other than my uncle would have thought appropriate to give me. and i loved them. some would be far above my reading level but i'd struggle through, learning new words, engrossed in the world of oliver twist.
my mother would sigh, telling my uncle he'd overdone himself again. spoiling me, he was, making it seem books were cheap. but to a girl with baby twin brothers who lived in the country away from the library, whose friends lived 20-30 minutes away, these books were my summers. of course, after dinner was over i'd have to return to homework and the books would get shelved, waiting for me to discover them again in due time.
i remember sitting on the swing set at my house, ignoring my little brother trying to get my attention, fully involved in the secret garden. i remember being curled up in a corner of my room by the bookshelf, reading right there in the place i discovered one book, not even hearing my mother call me to dinner. reading wuthering heights on my back porch on a summer evening.
my uncle passed away last night. last sunday, when we saw him at my great aunt's memorial service (she was 107 when she passed away), we chatted about horse racing, the middleburg country side, nothing of any importance. i'd see him again at our new family gathering.
i'm sure when i was 10, 11, 12, if i wrote a thank you note for my books it didn't do justice to what a treasure a box of books truly is. i don't think i ever told my uncle how happy he made my childhood in that way. how he encouraged my love of reading when i could have easily been swayed by those other childhood temptations. how he encouraged me to read outside my comfort zone, how receiving boxes of books will continue to be one of my favorite childhood memories, and all-time favorite gifts.