Kids take a lot of things for granted. It’s part of being a kid, to accept the world and its people as part of how life should be. That’s a terrible thing for kids who live with pain or deprivation but for a lot of us that meant a childhood where we took bicycles, birthday parties, vacations and our family’s love and devotion as part of our just due. We rarely said thank you. For example, I never thanked my folks for showing me why some stories are classics. Still, I haven’t forgotten our time with Treasure Island.
I don’t know if Treasure Island is still one of the required books of childhood. There are so many other stories now and Disney has such an imprimatur on the pirate world these days that Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic may get lost in the shuffle. My folks had both grown up with the tale and I suspect they were a bit excited about sharing “their” story with me when I turned ten. Perhaps I was a bit young, but I already had my nose in a book all the time so why not give me one they loved? None of us expected I couldn’t get “into” it.
But I couldn’t, not past Section I, as I told my mom three months later when she caught me re-reading The Borrowers. Mom didn’t fuss at me (as I feared) or remind me that I shouldn’t ignore an expensive present. She walked away and the next evening told me that she and Dad had a new project: they would read Treasure Island out loud over the next several nights, one chapter per parent per evening. All I had to do was sit and listen.
How well I remember those evenings, Dad lying on the couch and mom in a chair while I perched in the rocker, listening. Dad read with enthusiasm, enjoying the author’s writing style but my Mom touched greatness as a reader. She had all the talent of an actress and a gift for mimicry so I recognized each character by their voice tone and accent whenever she read. Squire Trelawney’s remarks had the drawl of aristocracy and Dr. Livesey used the Estuary English accent of an educated but self-made man. The pirates, of course, all used cockney or West Country accents and Jim’s voice had the higher tone of a boy. It was a wonderful performance.
My parents read every night, sailing through the dry area narrative where I’d stopped and into the sea-voyage, my excitement growing with each reading. I asked mom to return the book to me so I could “read ahead” but my wise mother said no and hid the volume, knowing the wait would increase my desire for the story. I took to wearing my winter boots for each reading, because they were the closest things in my closet to pirate garb and begged for extra chapters when we stopped at a cliff-hanger. I hated it when the book ended.
I think we all enjoyed that wonderful experiment although we never repeated it. My interest in reading rarely flagged after that and, though readers, my folks seldom liked the same books. But when a loved one says some classic tale isn’t keeping their interest, I’ll volunteer to read it aloud. My parents are gone now and it’s the only way I can thank them for those evenings of pirates and treasure.
And now my month of steady blogging is done. Have you liked it? What books did I miss that you like, which brought back memories for you, which books followed you home? Having a blog is rather like throwing bottled messages into the sea and I’m curious to know where (or if) my letters wash ashore. For everyone who has fished out a bottle by reading this blog, thank you. I appreciate your trips to the beach.