In last Friday’s subchapter from MisAdventures, I moved from being the world’s most average student under the stern glare of Mrs. Young in the first grade to being a ‘teacher’s pet’ under Miss Jone’s more supportive environment in the second grade.
While I wouldn’t describe Ruth Jones-Hall as being lax, she taught me that education could be fun and, more importantly, got me excited about reading. Reading became my opportunity to shine. I must have been a pain in the ass to the other little kids: waving my hands with an urgent “me, me,” reading in a loud voice, pronouncing the tough words and tearing through the dictionary to find definitions before anyone else could. My greatest triumph came in the third grade when Miss Jones had laryngitis and asked me to take over reading the noontime story. I still remember the book, Laura Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Unfortunately, another classmate was given equal billing and I had to share the glory. (Sharing was another one of those areas Mrs. Young had marked ‘needs massive improvement.’)
Reading was much more than an ego-booster; it unlocked a treasure chest of new worlds that expanded my universe far beyond the outskirts of Diamond Springs. I started out swinging through the trees of Africa with Tarzan of the Apes and kept going. Robin Hood took me to Sherwood Forest where I joined the fight against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Robinson Crusoe introduced me to sailing on the seven seas and surviving on exotic islands. I discovered dog books and horse books and cowboy books and read them all. There was no such thing as having too many books or not enough time to read.
I read so much that finding books became a challenge. At first, a combination of parents, school and friends filled the need. Friends were good for comic books. Parents provided more serious materials such as Five Little Firemen, and the school offered the usual Dick and Jane fare. As I grew older, Christmas and birthdays brought treasures like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But these were special events and far too infrequent to fill my voracious reading appetite. Summer created the greatest problem. When I wasn’t out wandering with the dogs, I could be found out in the back yard with my feet propped up and mind lost in the book of the day.
Fortunately, right about the time I exhausted all of my normal sources, I discovered the county library. It was located in an old house in Placerville at the bottom of the steep hill where Highway 49 deposited people from Diamond Springs and other points south. Few things excited me more than my weekly pilgrimage to its book crammed rooms. I developed a Pavlovian response to the smell of books that exists to this day. I could have spent hours lost among the shelves and would have except for an impatient mother. My time was limited to how long it took her to consume two beers at the Round Tent Bar on Main Street. On occasion, however, when she exceeded her two-beer limit and got lost in the alcohol, I had to go fetch her from the bar when the library closed.
By the time I was 12, I had solved the problem of summer reading material by hitch-hiking the three miles to Placerville and spending as much time in the library as I wanted. My only frustration was that the three books the librarian limited me to taking out the door were not nearly enough to occupy me for a week’s worth of reading.
Growing older also gave me access to the almost nonexistent family library. Pop didn’t read much and preferred his books technical or Holy. He read like he talked, slowly with his lips moving as he pondered each word. Mother’s reading skills were greyhound fast in comparison and her tastes were more eclectic. But she liked her books short, as in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books short. We had quite a collection. The total library was housed in a small bookcase possibly two feet wide and five feet tall located in the ‘office.’
What intrigued me most was that it contained a number of autographed books written by my Grandfather’s brother, Edison Marshall, who wrote exotic historical fiction that focused on wanderers like Marco Polo. Uncle Eddie, as my mother called him, had a long history of writing that dated from the 20s up through the 50s. Nine of his books were turned into movies. The last one, The Viking, came out in 1958 and starred Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Janet Leigh. Orson Wells was the narrator.
Edison’s depiction of historical figures gave me a fascination for both history and travel that would never leave me. A bit of sex in his books also caught my attention. It would earn a PG 13 rating in today’s world but was considered racy at the time. Check out the woman on the cover of Caravan to Xanadu. I’m surprised he got away with exposing a breast in the 1940s. I’d fly through the pages, and then slow down, way down. His accounts were infinitely more entertaining than anything included in my elementary, high school or even college history books. It’s too bad the creators of history textbooks have to make the subject so dull. Including a bit of intrigue, adventure, humor, tragedy and sex (i.e. real life), might lead to a more educated society. Old Ben Franklin didn’t just represent the US in France during the Revolutionary War. He spent a lot of time chasing French women. Early to bed, early to rise, indeed!
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY’S POSTS: I’ll provide some background information on the World Traveler, Bone, since he, or possibly she, is going on the Grand Canyon trip. This includes an actual interview with the wily character.