For one of the rare times of my life, I’ve been reading in the DAYTIME---unheard of, as I’m a bedtime reader, the “don’t waste daylight reading,” instilled by my Mother, whose watchful eye was usually foiled by my perch up one of the huge old pecan trees around the yard. And the fleeting thought has come to me several times that I ought to be hovering fifteen feet above the ground on a big ole limb, soaking up the moist Mississippi heat, hidden and smothered by the great blankets of leaves in my surroundings.
The last book I read up a tree was EMMA. I remember distinctly, for just as Miss Smith was consigning sticking plaster to the fire, a wasp dive-bombed my head and got caught in my hair. I can recall the frantic buzzing, sounding like some sort of model plane, so close was it to my ear, and I also remember dropping (hurling, most likely) the book. I have no recollection of making it down the twelve or so feet via the limbs I’d climbed---I may have even jumped part of the way, with no thought that broken bones might be a tad bit more painful and long-lasting than a sting. I DID have the presence of mind to snatch a big towel off the line, get a BIG handful of hair in it, and squeeze with all the might of both hands. I wrung that dry towel til it almost dripped; nothing short of an armadillo could have lived through the pressure of that panic.
Thus disabled, the little stinging critter was hors de combat, and though I had to comb some of his appendages out of my hair before getting right into the shower, no damage was done except to the wasp. I went back later and retrieved the book, none the worse for droppage, and I was certainly glad, for it belonged to the dear woman across the street---the blessed soul who had taught me to READ.
I’d no more have let anything happen to one of her books than I’d fly. No turned-down corners (I’d seen in third grade what happened to children who creased corners---Mrs. Nelson’s vise-grip on THAT BURTON BOY’s ear, and her menacing inquiry of, “Would you like for someone to do that to YOU?” probably did more good in the school than any number of cheery caveats stenciled on bright paper). No writing inside or out, no tearing out of pages, no underlining or margin-jotting or boyfriends’ names with little hearts dotting the I, though I love finding those, especially the old ones, with pencil flourishes or the careful ink of a first Fountain Pen, of the young lady’s name and little notations of life and events as was.
There’s just something---something special and significant and oddly charming, in a sort of peek-over-their-shoulder way, to find underlined words and phrases in a book I’m enjoying. Or thoughtful or odd or insightful little jottings in margins, or just inside the covers; I find those all to be an added little bit of lagniappe the author never intended---or perhaps DID.
Making people think about words and ideas must be a marvelous feat; causing them to earmark the place with a highlighter or underlining means the writing has touched something in them, whether pleasant or touching or incisive or memory-kindling.
And the lovely thoughts and e-mails and prayers and comments you’ve all expressed---they’ve all imprinted me, and are underlined indelibly in my heart, for taking out and savoring or remembering or simply smiling over, like flowers pressed in a book.. Thank you ALL.
From my own Autograph Book, well over fifty years old:
When Evening draws her curtain,
And pins it with a star,
Remember me and you will have
A Friend, wherever you are.