The Memory of Books

By Joanne Vance, Development Committee

How long does the memory of a good book last? Six months? A year? Three years? Five years? What book can you remember from your childhood? Was it one that you read yourself, maybe while on summer break, sitting in a chair on the back porch? Or as a teen in your room at night, with a nightstand light on when the rest of your house was becoming still and dark? Or was it one that was read to you when you were a small child, sitting on the lap of someone you cared about? Or visiting your grandparents and listening to the sweet tones of your grandmother’s voice as she read and let you turn the pages? What are the memories that you remember from the books of your childhood that have somehow crept their way into your adult life?

When I was growing up in Connecticut, the Christmas season was both exciting and magical. Its traditions were also comforting–the sparkle of decorations unpacked each year from  their boxes, the melody of Christmas carols, the delicious smell of cookies from family recipes, and of course the excitement of snow.  For me now as an adult there is also the memory of Christmas books that my mother read to my brother, sister, and me only at that special time of year.  These books had a magic all their own. They were often bigger than the typical books I read, their pictures were ornate and detailed with sparkling snow on the pages and holly boughs of green, red, and gold curled around the edges.  More importantly, these books held the evidence I had been looking for throughout my childhood: pictures of Santa with his elves.  I can still remember the excitement I would feel, turning the pages and studying all the faces of Santa’s helpers and, of course, studying the gentle face of Santa himself. I still have very clear images in my mind of the book covers and the beautiful illustrations.

I am a parent myself now, with five children ages 10 to 20. Yet through all these years and all the books I have read, I still remember so many things about those Christmas books that were read to me.  I have even purchased some of those same books to read to my children at Christmas time.  Recently, I have become a volunteer with Book Harvest in Durham because the mission of this wonderful organization so closely pairs with these marvelous memories that I have about books.  Book Harvest aims to get books into the hands of children who may not have access to books or may not have anyone to read to them.  By getting books to the earliest readers and to readers at every stage of learning, Book Harvest hopes to change the numbers of illiteracy in the Triangle.  One book at a time, one child at a time, one memory at a time. It is a marvelous goal and one of which I am proud to be a part.

My ten year old recently wanted to plant some vegetable plants for us to enjoy over the summer.  I suggested growing some herbs, since I knew the return for her would be easier and therefore more rewarding.  However, she was insistent that she wanted to grow carrots since they are one of her favorite vegetables. Remembering that one of her most loved books when she was little was “The Seed Bunny” by Jennifer Selby, a book we read dozens of times, I suggested that we use the technique used in that book – growing carrot tops in water, using toothpicks to hold them afloat until roots sprout. With a smile on her face, she looked at me and said, “Yes!”  I smiled, too, knowing that that book’s memory would probably stay with her for a very long time.