The Books

by Robin Turnipseed

“I need space.” I say these words during date night and watch as confusion graces my husband’s face.

Realizing what he may have thought I had said, I rephrase my statement: “I need a space of my own. A place for all my work, my books, and the paperwork that is scattered over every single surface of the kitchen! I need an office.”

I see him nod in agreement. Message received. So what next?

Making Space

A few days later, I rearranged a few rooms and found a small space to call my own. The empty room holds a desk, a small white bookshelf and a reading nook. If I am being genuinely honest, this simple bookshelf is the ultimate reason I desired an office. I have books scattered throughout my house and for years I have wanted them housed in a central location. I temporarily forgot about all the paperwork still scattered throughout the kitchen and zone in on filling those shelves.

Hauling box after box into the empty room, I slowly realized that this single bookcase would not possibly be up to the task. The time had come to purge the books. I sat down with great enthusiasm eagerly awaiting the rush that accompanies me through a cleaning session.

That enthusiasm lasted for a grand total of 30 seconds. Glancing down at the top of the box, I saw a small beige book staring back at me. The cover is damaged and its split binding is held together with thick black duct tape. I remembered that I had run out of clear tape when the years of wear finally split the spine and used duct tape instead. I like to think it adds to its charm though.

I acquired this treasure through a determined search of countless used bookstores nearly two decades ago. The artwork has since been updated, but the original depiction, a group of four children and a red wooden boxcar, is still my favorite.

Winter 1986

My love of reading started in the winter of 1986. After my classmates and I returned from lunch each day, our teacher Ms. Anson, chose to have us put our heads down on our desks and rest instead of diving right into our next assignment. During this rest time, she read to us.

She pulled from her own personal library and gifted us with a chapter every afternoon. At the start of the year, many of us drifted off to sleep lulled by the combination of her mellow voice and our full bellies. More often than not, most of the classroom chatter and giggles dissolved into soft snores before the first page concluded and I belonged to that sleeping majority. September faded in and out that year with Ms. Anson continued to read to us and we continued to sleep through every word.

The Change

That changed for me in October. The entire class piled back into the room after lunch and went about the usual routine: lunch boxes returned to backpacks and heads down on desks. However, before eyes began to weigh heavy, Ms. Anson pulled out a new book and said, “It’s The Boxcar Children. You don’t have to stay awake, but I really want you to picture in your mind what you are hearing.” We all sat up. She had our attention.

For the next 30 minutes we found the abandoned boxcar in our imaginations alongside Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. We gathered up twigs for beds and learned to cool our bottled milk in the stream that ran adjacent to the boxcar. We tagged along with Henry as he found odd jobs in the small town of Silver City to earn enough money for food for his brothers and sister. We found a stray dog, named him Watch, and aided Jessie in removing a thorn from his tender paw.

And we did it all with our heads down, but our eyes opened.

A Teacher’s Intention

As December hit and the snow flurried and fell, I no longer laid my head down on my desk. I sat up straight and leaned in as she read. Ms. Anson knew the value of intonation and inflection, so she made certain that each character gained their own distinct personality in her reading. She created specific voices and facial expressions, helping us to mentally craft the world formed within those pages.

The remainder of the year we journeyed through the snow with the Hardy Boys. We gathered clues and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, and we corralled penguins with a painter named Mr. Popper.

By the time that the spring shoots premiered their fresh green trimmings, I had already started charging through my summer reading list. My love affair with books had been solidified.

Grown-Up Bibliophile

It’s been 34 years and that love has yet to wane. I know that I am not alone. There reside great groups of us bibliophiles that would rather buy books than food most days, and we devour them just as easily and as eagerly. Many of us owe this addiction to a teacher who long ago chose to intentionally pour dedicated time into us. A teacher who painted pictures in our minds using tone and expressions in their reading, slowing the pace long enough to plant seeds that will forever harvest.

Many of us have become teachers, or even writers ourselves, who adore nothing more than the weight of a book in our hand and a story that has fully captivated us. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles who tuck little ones into bed under the blankets of softly read syllables and whispered rhymes. And sometimes we even provide the voices, just like Ms. Anson.

A Thank You

To Ms. Anson, I will be forever grateful. Whenever I close the cover of a book, I think of her, and I can still somehow hear her gentle voice excitedly leading us through the woods to the discarded boxcar and the world that continues to await us there.

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