It’s one of those beautiful fall days where the sky is so bright blue that it hurts your eyes to stare too long, and it’s just cold enough that you can drink hot cider but not wear a jacket. The last weekend like this before rain resumes, the weather man claims, but sometimes the valley can surprise you, so who knows. I’m sitting on the couch letting my food baby digest and my stomach return to a semi-normal state, waiting on friends to call. Whether we’ll go for a walk, swing in the park, or kick leaves, I don’t know, but the weather and food have me all quiet and introspective. I’m in no hurry. The weather isn’t going anywhere for a few hours at least. I can just sit here and think, remember what it was like when I was a kid.
Right now, in the town I grew up in, I can tell you that someone (several someones really) is burning. The smoke of leaves and stumps and paper scraps is overpowering the smell from the dairies and drifting fog-like through the corn mazes. Somewhere there is a pumpkin farm full of kids searching for the perfect would-be jack o’lantern, and someone is discovering (perhaps for the first time) that carved zucchinis make excellent ghosts.
I know that I read a lot as a kid. I know because I’ve gone through the boxes of books and remember the stacks in my old bedroom. I know because stepping out of the late fall sun and into the dark confines of the library or bookstore (with the manager I would later work for) is clear in my mind. The joy I found in aging and progressing from one reading level to the next, being able to reach higher shelves, and ducking around the movable ladders is all there, but the books themselves? Shadowy, undefined.
I know that I read The Hobbit in third grade. I know that I blew through all Madeline L’Engle’s books, as well as all the Nancy Drew. I remember being chilled by the spooky happenings in Christopher Pike’s books long after they were over.
I remember being absolutely addicted to the Young Indiana Jones chronicles as well as anything starring some young pioneer child as the protagonist.
I don’t remember the plots—couldn’t tell you the characters’ names if you put a gun to my head—but the results? Those I remember.
We built forts in JB’s back acreage with lumber scrap for walls and used vine maple leaves pinned up with blackberry thorns to decorate after JB read Robinson Caruso. After some story or another about a Native American tribe, we refashioned our fort and spend hours chipping away at obsidian with deer bones her father provided to create our own arrow heads. We were pioneer children. We were our own tribe. We took the world of the books and made it our own.
Using old sheets and the clothing line, we created tents. My backyard became a desert and we were explorers moving from oasis to oasis searching for buried treasure. The pits left from where my father dug up trees to ship became an obstacle course we had to transverse as the howls from the greyhound farm next to us spurred us on.
The Egyptian Game had us learning hieroglyphics, digging deep into the bags of costume jewelry and old clothes that my mom provided to dress ourselves like pharaohs and gods. We would pull the Time Life history books my mom bought from the shelves and study the profile style of the art so that we could transform the cardboard washer and dryer boxes into pyramids fit for our god-like presence.
We were invincible, capable of being anyone and doing anything, and each incarnation of our world, each character we played was the result of something gleaned from a book.
I may not remember the books. I may not remember the time I spent reading, wrapped up in a blanket or sitting in a swing. But the results: the times we ran through the trees screaming because the bad guys were after us, the times we went “hunting” to kill the “deer” so we could tan the hides and cure the meat for the long winter. These times all overlaid by the scent of someone’s wood pile burning and the crunch of leaves.
That’s what I remember on these fall days where the sun hurts my eyes, but I just have to go outside and walk or run or laugh with a friend while sipping cider. In my mind that pioneer girl, that adventurer, that Egyptian god that demanded that worlds be built in their honor is there whispering, “It’s time to go outside and play.”
The books will still be there when you get back.