These books were not the impetus for me to start writing...that honor goes to Anne Frank, but when I was about six years old and starting my conscious ramblings through the house in Queens, by which I mean poking and prying where I had no business.
That house, in a "village" tucked below the Whitestone Bridge and sort of north of Flushing Meadows, future home of the 1964 World's Fair, Shea Stadium and a couple of very very large cemeteries, was a tall and narrow place, shingled in asbestos that glittered in the sun. It might be called a duplex now because it contained two apartments and a basement, but we called it a two-family house. When I lived there, from birth to age 8, my mother and father, sister and brother lived on the first floor and my grandfather, who owned the entire house and his daughter, Ann (Fat Aunt Ann) and her husband and their two children all crammed into the top floor apartment. There was a basement with a coal shoot, a 'finished' section complete with bar (stocked) and a steel pole we'd crack our heads against if we weren't careful.
There was also a work bench and the leftovers of my Uncle Dave's motorized airplane hobby, the bits and pieces of someone's infatuation with carrier pigeons during WWII and an assortment of solid furniture from the 1930s, including a spiffy telephone table I latched onto even at six. I latched onto it because it held a little door and inside the little door were a handful of books: The Bobbsey Twins, The Bobbsey Twins in the Country, The Glass Heart and Eleven Came Back.
Although I'd yet to see what the kids today call "chapter books" I must have recognized the Bobbseys as children. I certainly didn't know what to make of The Glass Heart or Eleven Came Back but that didn't stop me from purloining them either (I eventually read them).
Thinking the Bobbsey book was a collection of stories, like my 50 Famous Fairy Tales or my 365 Children's Stories, or even, presumably, my missal, I opened the book at the chapter titles that caught my attention. Probably something to do with food or gifts. Do you remember that first experience of actually figuring something out? I do.
The first step occurred that moment in the somewhat musty basement with its coal dust and the damp magic of unknown cubbyholes and things not meant for me, its nearby bag of tomatoes from Grandpa's garden and that tingling sense of a voice overhead that would call me away from this found new world before I knew what I'd found.
The second step was upstairs in the room I shared with David, pouring over the chapters as if they were stories and realizing, by going backwards, searching for the beginning and finding it at the beginning, that what I held in my hand was not a collection of stories, but one long story that would outpace the hour and for the rest of my life outpace the days and the long nights and the frightening jitters of not knowing what to do next.
Read a book and be transported, be comforted, be enlightened, be found.
I wonder if all adventures start this way?