reflections on the life of a social worker

I’m not quite ready to write about my hospital experience. I’ m still trying to process it and what it means to me but while I do that I have been thinking about a number of other things. Generally I have been trying to keep my mind off work which has become another something to escape from.   So here goes for my escape, every Sunday I buy the NY Times, I enjoy the book review section and love the page where authors talk about the books they are reading and what they have read and love – hated – grew up on. When I get the times, I read the book review first.

Last week or so an author mentioned a book that I loved as a child and I started thinking about when it was that I caught the spark of reading. It wasn’t only the article however, it was also my brother who got me thinking about the fire that reading has been for me and for him. Out of the four siblings he being the oldest and I being the oldest girl in the family we two are the only ones who have a love affair with the written word. I’m not sure if I have mentioned before my siblings and how little we have in common and how little contact I wish generally to have with them. It’s a long story about my siblings, read my bio for more info but the point I want to make is that my other older brother thinks of books as decoration, what you can generally stack up to make and end table to hold your liquor at arms length and when my sister thinks about books she considers what you leave out to make people think you’re thoughtful. 

Anyway, when I was dropping off a family album- a written compilation of the history of my father’s side of my family to my brother, he brought out a complete paperback set of John McDonald Travis McGee books – wonderful mysteries, explored many years ago.  He bought them on ebay and has the whole set. I was amazed. I found McDonald when I was taking care of my mother who was a quadpelegic and believe it or not had more time to read. I turned my grandfather on to him and read them to my mother and my father even read them and my brother got into him too. I lost my McDonald paperbacks when the basement flooded- they were too moldy to keep. Although the smell of a moldy book is pretty powerful stuff it is also very unhealthy stuff.  

So, all this impacted my thoughts regarding the power of books and when that started for me. I guess, story time was important up until the time I could read for myself, my father read to us nightly from a book of stories from the Colliers Encyclopedia group and an old book that had 365 poems and stories for children.  When you bought the encyclopedia, you got a series of 10 books that had poetry and adventure, fairy tales etc. My sister took them when my mother died, my father cleaned out the house with the help of my sister who took everything that wasn’t nailed down. There was a method to his madness. He told me outright, that it would save me the hassle of accommodating my brothers and sister in what they got from the homestead when he died.

After everyone took what they wanted, my father repopulated the house with brand new furniture which is mine; he made it a point to tell family that he was buying me furniture for the house as he had signed the house over to me in 1994. Funny even though he did that when he died, a niece told me that she thought the leather living room furniture would look great in her apartment with her screaming house wreck children and her husband who seems to always be a student and never actually working.

Wow, well I guess I had to get that out! But the only thing that it has to do with books is that for some reason my sister took the books and the encyclopedia – she is not a reader and I don’t think that she was even read to out of those books because by the time she was growing up my parents had other books to read through her childhood. I guess I want my books back but since we do not talk, I cannot ask her.

By the end of 15 years of caring for my mother I had amassed a staggering number of books. My father never complained about the purchase of these books.  I guess I reminded him of my mother in terms of reading and because I could not get out regularly he understood the need to buy books. I like libraries but I do not have the patience for them and I forget to return on a timely basis.  I still have most of the books from that time, in many different places in the house. I think if I were to gather them together in one place it would be overwhelming in terms of the dollar amount – so they are diffused. Some in my room some in the middle room, some in the closet and in bags in the blue room and there are the most recent stacks in the living room. My non reading brother asked me once, did you read all these? When I answered yes he said then why do you keep them? I immediately replied, “because books are our friends!”  After which I immediately thought – they are better than friends really. Then I thought how odd to ask such a question.

My burning question is what happened to my Trixie Belden books? I did not take them with me when I moved away from home, they were somehow gone before that.  I do not know where they went and have no one to ask, but I want them back to because the Trixie Belden mysteries were the first books that I can honestly say sparked the fire. They were amazing mysteries because you waited for the next one to come out, you read it over and over when it did, soaking up the characters and living the mystery along with them. They had something for everyone – adventure, friendship, happiness, sadness how amazing – cozy mystery for children.  Trixie was not Nancy Drew, the spoiled rotten high class sleuth b… in high heels in high school – really!!!! Trixie was my kinda gal, the rough and tumble older brothers make you a better woman kind of character – ‘cause you know how to play with the boys.

So I bought kindle Trixie Beldens and read two last weekend. I also started cleaning out the blue room, so don’t think me a total slacker. I read them like they were the elixir of youth and I needed a strong healthy drink.

I mentioned this to my friend Carol who did not have a very good childhood or a very nice mother, and it is a long and very difficult story for her complete with betrayal and divorce which was the catholic red letter of the day.  When I talked with her about my mother’s love of books and how she instilled that in us as children, she got pissed off. She loves to read but has no connection to it in terms of a person who mentored her enthusiasm. When I talked with her about it and asked her who in her life mentored her she thought about it and then later tried to make me feel badly about my mother’s strength of character that made her want her children to have the tools they needed to succeed. She did not do so intentionally, but I realized that I had hurt her ignorantly, so I apologized. But that got me thinking and knowing the rather ignorant history of my mother’s parents; I wondered who it was that fostered her interest in reading.

My mother  came from rather simple folk. My grandmother was one generation removed from the old country of Poland and Hungary and my grandfather was a very cocky Irish American both died rather young – neither were what you would call ‘readers’ and a fondness for the written word was never mentioned in relation to them. I’m not saying that they weren’t literary, however I think that I would have remembered something like that as I remember my grandfather on my father’s side who had an appetite for books that was considerable.  Pa always had a stack of books bedside, “ the que” as he called it            (Canadian). He loved mysteries and classics; he was fond of Steinbeck and Hardy, and loved to read historical novels. He loved to read the newspaper when he returned from work nightly.  I remember fondly sitting on his lab spooning beer suds while he read the Buffalo Evening News.

My mother however it seemed had no family stimulus to read and I never asked her about her love of reading and where it came from and since she has passed I cannot. I do however remember some things that lead me to believe that her enthusiasm came from the mentoring of one Blanche Burke.  My mother took my brothers and I to visit Blanche in Lockport from time to time, she lived off transit road, she had all sorts of great books and my mother enjoyed visiting with her.

Blanche was her and my father’s teacher at the one room school house in Cambria on Upper Mountain Road-it only went to grade 8 and after that my mother then went to private catholic school in Lockport until she dropped out to marry my father ( guess why!!!).  I think that Blanche wanted her to become a teacher and because of one child after another it was not a possibility. I remember that Blanche’s birthday and mine were days apart and when she died in 1979, I went with her to her funeral with my mother. My mother was very sad, as a light in her life had gone out. I’m not sure, but I think that Blanche must have been living in a nursing home as she was unmarried, as most school teachers of her time. It was probably Mt View in Lockport, because I remember that my mother spent a lot of time there giving gifts to people who did not have family and spending time reading to them.

That is where it came from, Blanche showed her that despite difficult circumstances if one could read then one could transcend those circumstances even if only briefly into a different world. My mother read more history and autobiography than anyone I know; she always had a tidbit of historical knowledge and could hold her own in conversation with most well educated folks from my father’s business dealings. Her secret passion was mystery. Earl Stanley Gardner was her favorite, she disliked the romance novels unless they had some historical context and never turned a page in a self help book.

My father loved to read as well but he was used to reading off the back of the fantail of an aircraft carrier, he liked Zane Gray and spiky detective novels. He could not parcel out a book and once it caught his interest he devoured it whole. He would read all night if he had to. My mother often had several books going at once. The other difference between the two was that my mother could read a new book and you would never know that it had been touched. My father on the other hand would give you back a paperback sans the cover with dog eared pages- not sure why cause he would read them straight through but for some reason he felt that he had to turn down pages – kind of like highlighting and book marking.

My oldest brother and I are the same, you will never see a broken spine on a hardcover book of ours and you could return our paperbacks as unread as there are never a crease in the bindings. Both of us dreaded my father’s request for a book. It meant destruction.

Most of the books that I have from college are not highlighted unless I had to buy used, which I detested having to do. Marking a book was a crime that was punishable according to my mother and when I was in third grade I didn’t sleep for a whole night because I had left my library books on the bus and having a hyper inflated idea of the value of books and noting the numbers 125 and 350 and 175 in the front of my books the thought of the replacement costs for those books would financially cripple my family – I thought hundreds of dollars!! When I explained this to my mother she smiled and corrected me but I was so relieved to find them in the lost and found the next day.

I now have to budget my dollars in terms of buying books, the kindle has been a budget breaker – I have great interests and now I can get it right away – dangerous.  I try to distribute my available funds keeping in mind that I want the brick and mortars to be around and they need to be supportoed too and amazon prices are really great and being a prime member I get it in two days!!  I don’t know enough people who have kindles so, unless I buy it hardcover I cannot lend it. If it is a really good book, I may buy several copies because I know people don’t always return the favor. On several occasions I have tried to keep track of the books I lend. I am not that well organized.

So now I am thinking about how much it is going to cost to replace the 39 trixie belden mysteries in hard cover and whether I should get the LMSW tutorial or the books, as they are about the same price. I plan on taking the L test this year and all ready have some study guides but this one from NASW looks the best.  Pleasure or professional, I think I’ll take the weekend to decide, but in the meantime I’ve got some on the kindle to devour. It’s like catching up with a long lost friend when I read Trixie, I think about my grandmother’s next door neighbor Mrs. Dephlas and her daughter Becky and how we played all summer  in the wild field between the houses on upper mountain road. Making paths and reading in the sun down by the ledge on the escarpment. Kicking puff balls and picking sour cherries for cherry pie. Climbing trees and riding horseback down on lower mountain road.  I miss the simple of it all.

“Oh Moms!”

Write and read on?

Peace from the Wearyempath.


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