Sunday, August 1, 2010

The quest of finding childhood favorites

Years ago, I began trying to find my all-time favorite childhood books.

I'm such a hoarder, I'm surprised they ever got away from me in the first place. But somehow, over the years, they did. I guess I just stopped reading them. Maybe they ended up in one of those dreaded basement boxes. Maybe I gave them away. Somehow... they just disappeared.

A few years ago, I decided to find them. There was no real reason for my quest. My kids weren't particularly interested. I just wanted them. For comfort, maybe. Nostalgia, perhaps. Or maybe I just needed a good challenge.

Some of them were easy. Those "Misty of Chincoteague" books by Marguerite Henry? Piece of cake.

"Ghosts Who Went to School," by Judith Spearing? Well, my sister found that for me online. She tried to find a few others, like "The Nine Lives of Opalina," by Peggy Bacon, one of my favorite tales, about a ghost cat, and she succeeded - but it cost $250. "I wouldn't pay that for a real ghost cat," she informed me. "Sorry." So for that, we're still looking.

On other obscure favorites, we were lucky. "Go to the Room of the Eyes," by Betty K. Erwin? That was a toughie. But I found it, just lying on the floor of the bookstore section in my hometown library. I practically jumped up and down. The cashier was hardly as excited as I was - and I was never so happy to fork over 50 cents.

But one of my very favorite books comes with one of my favorite stories. The book is called "Mine for Keeps," by Jean Little, and I loved, loved, loved it when I was growing up. My obsession with it drove my family crazy. It was about a little girl who was handicapped who bravely made her way through a regular school. Something about that book just caught my imagination - I was that little girl. I made up imaginary games about her with me in the starring role. One time, I even took off with my grandmother's crutches for about an hour, completely forgetting she, um, really did need them. Mom lectured me. Grandma forgave me. But I still loved that story.

But the book was out of print - not even the libraries had it.

So when I was a reporter, a few years ago, I was doing a story on the expansion of a homeless shelter. I was waiting for my contact to meet me, and I was just nosing around the shelter's main area, a children's play area and social room. Naturally drawn to the bookshelves, I started reading the titles. And there it was, right in front of me: "Mine for Keeps." Oh, my goodness. What to do?? Offer to buy it?? And take a book from a homeless shelter? Um, no way. So I just stood there, holding it, lost in memories. The director walked up behind me and looked at me questioningly.

"This was my favorite book growing up," I said, my face turning red. I put it back on the shelf.

He took it out and looked at it. "Take it," he said. I stared at him, horrified.

"Um, I really couldn't," I said, and I meant it. He just laughed.

"It's pretty old," he said. "I don't think any of the kids here read it. They prefer 'Clifford' and 'Blues Clues' and 'Pokemon.'"

So we made a deal. I left my beloved book - and bought a few more modern favorites. I came back, and then we traded. Now "Mine for Keeps" is just that.

But I haven't made off with anyone's crutches lately, I swear.

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