I undoubtedly fell in love with books when my mother read them to me in those few years before I could do it for myself but my first actual memory of the happiness brought on by the presence of books is an early visit to our local library. I learned later that the place was one of refuge for my mother but even though I didn’t fully grasp it then (I had not long turned four so can hopefully be forgiven for not being attuned to the psychological nuances of the event) I must have sensed enough of her reverence for the place and its contents that I was uncharacteristically well-behaved; sitting quietly in the small children’s section of the room until it was time to leave. Whereupon I was presented with my very own book-carrying bag to carry home the two books I had been allowed to select (it is the presentation of the bag I actually remember, my good behaviour became oft-repeated family folklore due to its rarity). And so began the ritual of my mother and I walking to the library together just about every Saturday morning until that branch closed a decade or so later. Our respective love for books continued unabated but we tended to go separately to the library after that (me on my way home from school, mum squeezing in visits between her various charitable works of the day) but those Saturday mornings remain, collectively, one of my fondest and strongest memories of childhood.
For the past two years my mum’s brain injury induced dementia has meant she was with us only in a physical sense and I think I began my grieving for her when we learned that her sudden and almost complete loss of mental acuity was irreversible. Her death last week, at the age of 87, came then as an awkward kind of relief. It allowed me, quite suddenly, to stop feeling sad and angry at the ignominious way she had to live the last years of her life and instead start remembering the good times. Like those Saturday morning trips to the library. And so much more.
In a pre-internet age my mum believed inherently that the answer to all life’s myriad questions were to be found within the pages of a book but she particularly loved the escape and possibilities offered by great written stories and it was those we used to talk about most, even after we stopped visiting the library together. There are many, many things I will be forever grateful to my mum for teaching me but here is the place to acknowledge my gratitude for her passing on her deep love of reading. Thanks for the countless hours of joy mum. I’ll remember you always, but especially during my visits to the library which have, since I moved to this house three years ago, almost always taken place on Saturday mornings.