Whenever I hear anyone say that they were poor as a child but didn’t realize it because they were always surrounded by so much love, I don’t believe it. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but how could you not know? I was also raised in a poor but loving household and was well aware of it every day. And, on the off chance I might happen to forget for a moment, there was always a rich kid, usually a cheerleader with a cute button nose and the bosom of a 20-year-old Playboy bunny, who was more than happy to jog my memory.
Love is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t make you not hungry or forget that you’re wearing hand-me-downs and that your mom, who isn’t a beauty operator, cuts your hair. I’m not saying I wasn’t happy; I’m just saying that I knew. But perhaps it isn’t fair to judge since, unlike myself, not everyone has been fifty years old since they were seven.
As a single parent and sole provider, my mother made sure her children never went without basic necessities, but there wasn’t much “extra” anything at our house. I suppose I could say there was “extra love,” but that would sound just as ridiculous as someone saying they didn’t realize they were poor despite having worn milk cartons as snowshoes.
The one thing that my mom rarely said no to when it came to spending money was books. She’s an avid reader, and it is from her that I inherited my passion for reading. I adore books: the way they look and feel and especially how old ones smell when you fan their yellowing pages under your nose.
When I get a new book, my ritual is the same today as when I was a little girl. First, it’s gets set somewhere in plain sight, usually on the coffee table. I want to be able to see it but won’t read it right away. It’s fun knowing that it’s there, waiting.
When the anticipation becomes too much, the front and the back cover get read. Then, if there’s a dust cover, I read the inside flaps with the information about the author. Most times, it’s boring stuff like how they reside in West Virginia with their spouse and a parrot, both of which are named Hank. But sometimes it’s about their work process and cool facts like how they hated crying babies and mainly survived on hamburger meat, green peas, and coffee – that was Will Cuppy. He wrote a weekly column for the New York Herald in the 1930s and one of my all-time favorite books, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. A hilariously wry book of stories where he humbles historical figures like William The Conqueror and Lucrezia Borgia. Who doesn’t enjoy a funny Lucrezia Borgia story, for crying out loud?
I then read the page that lists any other books the author has written and think, “If I like this one, maybe I’ll read one of those. But what if I do and it’s not as good? That would be sad. So, maybe I won’t. Relax, Pedigo, you don’t have to decide right now.”
Then next is the one with all of the publishing information on it. Not sure why I read that page. Maybe it’s because sometimes I get to say, “Hmm, I wasn’t even born when this was copywritten. Interesting.”
Even though it isn’t at all interesting.
Then onward to the dedication page, where I’ll ponder if these people truly appreciated the gesture and what they did to deserve it, other than having to live with a moody writer who ate a shitload of green peas.
Then I read the forward unless, of course, it gives too much away, and then I’ll stop and go back and read that after I’m finished to see if I agree with the pompous opinion of the writer of the forward. I usually do.
And, finally, when there has been enough word foreplay and my brain is sufficiently aroused, I will begin chapter one.
Yes, that seems like a lot, I know. But it’s not if you’re a reader because readers are hardcore. We like to read. In the 90s, I continued to work for a comedy club that wouldn’t move me up as a performer or pay me more money, and I did it simply because in the condo, where the comics stayed, there was, for some reason, a collection of The Alphabet Murders by Sue Grafton and I wanted to read them all. Which I eventually did, and then told the club booker that “F is for fuck off.”
It’s hard for me to comprehend when a person says they aren’t a reader. A man once told me that while we were at dinner. He used those exact words, “I am not a reader.” I, was suddenly tired and remembered that I needed to get up early the next morning. Because that’s a deal-breaker for me, I could be attracted to someone who can’t read but not to someone who chooses not to.
Books and being able to escape into their stories are how I survived adolescence. They let me know there was a big colorful world out there, not just the grey one where this misfit kid hung her second-hand hat. It’s why I became a storyteller. I enjoy the thought that maybe one of mine might make someone as happy as the ones I like have made me.