Category: Childhood

“Eight Books!”

A small sign on the light wood desk reads “LIBRARIAN.”

“May I help you?” a curly haired woman asks.

The woman glances at my summer reading list which she keeps in her bag. “We’re looking for Pippi Long-Stocking,” she says. “What else would you like to read?” she asks.

“Can I have five?” I ask.

The librarian asks, “Do you have a library card?”

“Yes!” I say.

“Then, yes. You may take out five.”

My feet bounce me up and down.

“How old are you?” the curly haired woman asks.

I hold up five fingers.

The woman sighs. “She’s six.”

I’m five, I tell my Friend.

The librarian leads me to a bookcase.

“You should be able to read these books,” she says.

I pick up Good Night, Moon and sigh.

“That’s a good book,” she says.

“It’s a baby book,” I say. “Do you have Lion, Witch and Wardrobe?”

“That’s probably a little too advanced for you,” she says.

“I can read it,” I say. “I’ve read almost the whole Bible. Except he didn’t like it when I said the Woman clothed with the sun is Mary.”

The curly haired woman chuckles.

“But I did read it!” I say stamping my foot.

“I’m sure you did.” The chuckle remains in her eyes.

“The Narnia books are over here.“ She leads me to a tall bookshelf. “You’ll need the stool.”

Standing on a small stool, I reach for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Eight Books“Oh!” I cry. “There are one, two, three, four, five …six more!”

I pull the pastel books in their impervious cellophane covers down and carry them to the librarian’s desk.

“May I take three extra?” I ask.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I can only allow you to take five.”

I stand at the desk staring at each cover. Which can I leave behind?

The woman’s voice sounds behind me, “Did you find what you wanted?”

“Yes, but I can’t take them all out.” My mouth is upside down.

The woman tells the librarian, “You can put the extra books on my card.”

My smile pours itself into my eyes, sinks into my feet.

“Eight books!” I softly announce to my Friend. “Eight books!”

Photographs Of Me – Another Snippet

I carry a large white envelope in the crook of my left arm.

“Photographs of me,” I whisper to my Friend.

The trees and rocks appear crisp and solid. My face is in none of the photographs on the polished tables in the living room and hanging on the wall above the stairs. Neither do I appear in the family photograph that resides in a golden frame in next to the woman’s bed.

The man is sitting on the porch.

“Look, Daddy,” Claire says. “We got our school pictures.”

She shoves her envelope into the man’s hand.

“Did you bring me anything?” Ames and Charles demand.

“You’re home early,” Eve says.

“I finally sold the garage.” His voice is gruff. “I deserve a little time off.”

He strokes Claire’s hair, “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

He reviews each child’s photographs. Finally, he peers at my prints for a long moment.

“You could be a model when you grow up,” he says.

“I Wanna Bi-i-te You!” – A Snippet

Why are you in here alone?” the man asks from the door of the playroom. “Come read in the living room.”

I carry my book into the other room. Eve is playing the piano. The woman is embroidering and watching Claire sew two pieces of fabric together. I sit in the rocker. Under cover of my book, I suck my thumb.

“Take your thumb out of your mouth!” the man says.

I pull my thumb out and continue reading.

“Your legs are so tender and delicious, I’ll just have to eat them all up.” The man is sitting on the floor with Ames nibbling his calves.

Ames gushes, “Do it again, daddy! Do it again!”

The man nips his legs again.

He looks up and sees me watching, “Come here. Let me see your legs.”

I hesitate. He lunges forward, grabs my arm, and pulls me onto the floor. He pushes up the leg of my jeans and bites me.

“No!” I cry. “You’re hurting me!”

I push at him, struggle to escape. He puts one leg over my body. I continue to struggle.
He smacks my thigh, “That didn’t hurt you! Ne fais pas le bébé!”

He bites again and again. Finally he releases me. My legs are covered with angry, red welts.

I see his leg between his sock and trouser. I lunge and sink my teeth into him. He jumps. Sobbing, I say, “I wanna bi-i-te you! I wanna bi-i-te you!”

The man hold me at arms length, laughs, mimics me, I wanna bi-i-te you!” Then, “Bébé! I didn’t hurt you!” He smacks my bottom. “Go change for bed.”

The woman’s voice stalks me as I limp from the room, “I wanna bi-i-te you!”

Sewing Machine – Another Snippet

There is a humming sound downstairs. I dress myself in robe and slippers and tip toe down the steps. The woman has removed the embroidered cloth from a small table. She leans over it working at a white machine.

“What is that?” I ask drawing close.

The woman jumps. “Oh! You’re awake!,” she said. “Can’t you sleep?”

I’m always awake, I think. I ask aloud, “What is that?”

“My sewing machine,” she says. “I’m making you a dress for your first day of school.”

She lifts a cornflower blue dress and a cream coloured cotton pinafore printed with yellow flowers and liver-spotted cocker spaniel puppies.

“Do you like it?” she asks. “I dyed Claire’s old yellow dress but there are still spots so I added the pinafore to cover them.” I stoke one of the spaniels. “Do you like the pockets?” she asks.

“Oh yes,” I say and blink away a tear. I glance at the television. “There’s no colour? Is it broken?”

“That’s an old movie. Old movies aren’t in colour.” She smooths the pinafore fabric then tilts her head and asks, “Are you hungry? Would you like some ice cream?”
I nod.

She goes to the kitchen and returns with two bowls of vanilla ice cream.

We eat and watch in silence. When I finish, the woman takes my bowl and says, “Back to bed with you. But first wash your face and hands and brush your teeth.”

He Knows You!

Eve! Gerard! Get down here and bring your Bibles!” the man shouts from the bottom of the stairs.

“A family should read the Bible together,” he says as Eve and Gerard find seats. “You can find time for everything else.”

My ears perk up, What is this?

The man reads several pages. Then the woman reads. Then the older children each read a verse. I sit with my feet planted on the carpet to keep the small rocker still. After Charles stumbles through a verse, I rock forward and ask, “May I read?”

“You may have a turn when you learn to read,” the woman says.

My bottom lifts itself a few inches out of the chair. “I can read.”

“No you can’t,” the man says. “Why does she sit there and lie…”

“But I can read!” I squeak.

The man flips through his book. He stabs a finger down on a page and says, “Read this.”

I move my face closer until the blur resolves into words: “Jesus wept.”

“Read the next verse,” he says.

“Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!”

The man and the woman look at each other. A huge grin breaks across my face.

The man talks for a long time. The other children sleep. The woman’s head nods. A loud snore sounds from the corner.

The man removes his leather slipper, throws it, “Wake up!”

“I’m awake!” Charles wails rubbing his arm.

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come,” the man says.

He’s talking about You, I tell my Friend bouncing in my seat. I didn’t know there was a big book all about You.

The man asks, “Are there any questions?”

“What does Jesus wept mean?” I ask.

This is grand! I tell my Friend. My heart pounds. I hug myself. He knows You!

* Scripture for this post taken from the King James Version

I Want My Marmar

I waited outside my classroom in the damp chill for Claire and Gerrard. The other children had all left but no one came for me.

“I can walk,” I told my Friend. “I know the way.”

Two blocks past the school four big boys jumped from behind a thick hedge. Gerard and Charles quarreled with them after school.

“That’s Gerard’s sister,” one of them called out.

“Let’s get her,” another boy said.

Suddenly I was lying prone on the ground. Their fists pommeled my back. A sneaker crashed into my side.

“Let’s go,” a boy said. “Old man Marcus’ll see us.”

Pain throbbed in my arm and back as I pulled myself to my feet. My knees ached. My book and lunch pail were in a puddle. I picked them up and limped home stunned and sobbing.

“I want my Marmar,” I begged my Friend. “I want my Marmar.”

The woman met me at the door, blocked my entrance.

Her fist on her hip, she asked, “Where have you been?!”

“They forgot me so I walked by myself but some big boys beat me up,” I wailed.

“You should have gone back to school and reported them to the principal,” she told me.

The sky was growing dark. Big rain drops had begun to fall.

She pointed towards the school, “Go and report them to the principal.” She stepped back inside, closed the door, and watched me through the glass panes.

As twilight fell, I limped back in the rain with scraped hands, bloody knees, wet shoes and clothes. More tears leaked out when I discovered a rip in my navy, corduroy skirt; my chest hurt.

“It wasn’t her!” I sobbed at my Friend. “It wasn’t her! It was that woman!”

Something dark made me jump. I peered closer, pouted at the shadow of a shrub. “They’re waiting for me,” I said.

The principal, Mr. Evans, gave me a puzzled look as I entered his office, “Did they forget you?”

Tears became heh-huh hiccups as I choked out the story.

When I was quiet, Mr. Evans lifted me into an armchair and dried my tears. His hands shook as he emptied the contents of a packet into a styrofoam cup and added water from an electric kettle. With a smile, he handed me the cup of cocoa. “Let’s see if we can do something about those cuts,” he said. “This will sting.” He cleaned and bandaged my wounds, then drove me back to the house and walked me to the door.

The woman let me in, “Go change into something dry.”

Mr. Evans smiled at me from the porch. As I began to turn away, anger replaced his smile. He didn’t come in but kept the woman at the door for a long time.

Next morning, the pain in my knees woke me. The bandages had slipped; my pajama bottoms had stuck to my scraped knees.

“Stop!” I screamed when the man ripped the fabric from my wounds.

“Gros bébé,” he sneered and smacked my thigh.


Janet and Mark

“Let’s welcome Mel. She’s joining our class,” Mrs. Lawson said.

In unison, the boys and girls said, “Welcome, Mel.”

“You may sit with Ellie,” Mrs. Lawson said directing me to a table in the first row.

The last hour of the day, eight of us sat around a low, round table in the reading corner. Mrs. Lawson gave me a thin, book, “Janet and Mark.” (1)

“Janet,” I read on the first page and then from the second, “Mark.”

When the bell rang, Mrs. Lawson said, “Take your books home and practice reading the first two pages again.”

At the dining room table, I read aloud, “Janet. Mark.” I itched to turn the page but Mrs. Lawson had not given me permission so I closed the book.

The woman was peeling potatoes in the kitchen. “May I read the big Bible,” I asked her.

She scrubbed my hands and set the book before me. I read of Joseph’s death in Exodus.

(1) Mabel O’Donnell, Janet and Mark, Harper & Row (1966)

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F is for Faith Healer

“Eve, ride with your mother and the nurse in the ambulance,” the man said.

After the hospital bed bearing her mother had been loaded in, Eve climbed in and one of the drivers slammed the heavy door shut.

As the vehicle pulled away, I stood on the sidewalk hugging my coat in the chill night air.

“Get in this car, Mel,” the man shouted.

f is for faith healerI jumped and scrambled into the empty seat between between Claire and Gerrard. We drove a long way. The man sang Blessed Assurance to himself raising his voice during the chorus:

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

We rode huddled in silence. Finally, we arrived at an open field. The dark silhouette of a huge tent loomed in the night sky. We waited behind a long queue of cars that sought space among the parked rows filled by earlier arrivals.

The man hunched his shoulders, shook his head, and muttered, “Quel désordre!” He lowered his window and, waving a sheaf of tickets, called to a guard who wielded a flashlight, “I have a reservation. My wife’s ambulance should be here… That’s her,” he cried out pointing at the large, white shape as it moved into the yellow light near the tent entrance.

“Pull over here,” the guard directed. We parked in an area surrounded by red tape on which “reserved” had been printed in white.

Inside, we sat under the bluish light cast by bare, fluorescent bulbs. Giant space heaters sent warmth towards our shoulders but missed the chilly seats of the metal folding chairs. The woman lay under piles of blankets on her hospital bed.

“Who’s he?” Gerrard whispered to Charles.

“A faith healer,” Charles answered. Gerrard’s brow furrowed. “He’s going to try to heal mummy like the one last week.”

“Oh!” Gerard’s voice rose.

The man snapped his head in our direction, “Hush! Show some respect.” He leaned over to the large woman next to him, “I’ve got to be father and mother to them.” She nodded. “But I know God will heal my wife and give them back their mother.”

“Amen!” she replied.

“What is your name?” the faith healer lay his hand atop the pile of blankets.

“Roberta,” the woman’s voice was a whisper.

“Roberta,” the man spoke clearly.

“Roberta,” the faith healer’s drawled. “Do you believe God can heal you?”

“Yes,” the woman whispered.

“Then in the name of Jesus, be healed!”

He lifted her off the bed holding her under her arms. Spasms of pain tore across her face. She hung from his hands, a limp rag doll; her toes, in black, leather slippers, barely touched the floor.

“Walk Roberta,” the man urged.

The woman hung suspended from the faith healer’s hands. The nurse stepped forward. She and the man lifted the woman back onto the hospital bed.

“You” have to fast and pray,” the faith healer told the man. “But if you believe,” his voice boomed out through the microphone, “God will heal you.”

“I’ll fast for forty days and forty nights,” the man declared shaking the faith healer’s hand. “Just like Jesus.”

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C is for Calm and Comfort

“Shall we get flowers for Marmar?” Papa’s big, warm hand clasped mine. Icy blue eyes gazed into my brown ones. My legs beneath my navy coat raised and lowered my black leather Mary Janes in a prancing dance.

C is for ComfortI vigourously nodded. A small smile lifted the corners of my mouth as we entered the shop. I pressed my nose and lips against the counter’s glass front as a blond woman in a blue overall spoke with Papa. A pink and gold bow congratulated me: “It’s a girl!”

“What of peonies, Lysse?” he asked holding one fluffy pink stem.

I breathed in its soft, powdery fragrance then looked up at him with a wide smile and nodded again. As Papa turned away, my eyes collided with the attendant hazel gaze.

“What a lovely little miss,” she said.

I pressed against Papa’s leg reaching for his hand and caught hold of the hem of his tweed jacket, “Huh… Huh…” I whimpered. Tears stung my eyes, “Huh… Huh…” I buried my face in his grey flannel trousers, clutched the soft fabric in my small fingers. “Huh… Huh…”

Papa lifted and held me so that our faces were about a foot apart. “Calm yourself,” he said in his Lysse-does-not-behave-this-way voice. The whimpers petered out as he repeated, “Calm yourself.” A hot tear fell onto his lapel. He gathered me close in his arms against his shoulder. My tears ceased.

“She’s tired,” Papa told the attendant then completed ordering. Mouth serious, eyes wide, I peered over his shoulder at her smiling face as he carried me from the shop.

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B is for Book

My back kneaded the wall outside the woman’s bedroom. Through the cracked door, I saw the woman sitting on her bed, taking things from a round, red, velvet box. Pressed my face against the crack, widening it. My mouth was a small O, my eyes pleading.

“You may come in,” she told me.

I approached the bed stopping with my hands on the white, linen coverlet. One green embroidered flower rested under my fingers. I stroked the bumpy needlework.

b is for bookA few ribbon-tied piles of yellowing envelopes already lay on the bed. The woman removed a small cream coloured book with gold edged pages from the box and placed it next to the envelopes.

“What’s this?” I asked, my hand on the book.

“It’s a children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”

I opened it. A berobed man held a cup and, above it, a small, round, shining white wafer. A sudden stillness filled my insides, rang through my heart and, without sound, through my ears. Tears welled in my eyes. The woman gently took the book from my hands and placed it back on the bed.

“Go play, now,” she told me.

Half way to the door, I stopped and gazed back at the small, cream book.

I returned to the bedroom I shared with Eve and Claire. My face sheltered behind an immense book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes propped against my knees, I sat with my back pressed against the closet wall; the closet door remained ajar.

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old, I chanted under my breath. After each stanza, I raised my head and listened. The rays of the sun on the window seat beckoned me to my accustomed place but I remained in the closet.

The woman’s door closed. She traversed the hallway and descended the stairs. As the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed to her room and tried the handle. It was unlocked. The red, velvet box was not on her bed. I went into her closet. There it was on a shelf above my head. I climbed onto her shoe shelf and lifted the box down. Beneath letters and dried flowers, I found the missal. I took it and returned to the closet in the room I shared.

Slowly, I read each page, drinking in each picture. On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white, round thing, the words read: ‘Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.’

Something tugged at my heart. My chest heaved. A stuttering “Huh! Huh! Huh!” came from the recesses of my chest. The well of tears gushed over. When it receded and the stuttering ended, I left the closet and pushed the book as far as I could under the my mattress.

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