Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Gift That Keeps on Giving

This week's question:

Presents! November 6, 2008
Filed under: Wordpress — --Deb @ 1:20 am

So, it’s my birthday today. (Please, no applause.) But it’s inspiring today’s question–

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

I was pleased when I realized it was Thursday, as I had no idea what I was going to write about today. But I like this question a lot.

I have received probably hundreds of books as gifts over the course of my lifetime. My Aunt Barbara is a retired reading teacher and currently active on the board of her local library, so growing up, I could always count on a book from her at Christmas. My parents and sister usually give me books for Christmas and my birthday. My boyfriend has gotten my books. I've received some great books from friends, things that I never would've read otherwise like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and (cough) Dante's Inferno (I did get about halfway through and liked it a lot, but something which I can't even recall anymore came up).

However, I'd have to say that the most meaningful gift was Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, in hardcover. My grandfather died shortly before I turned six. Of his four grandchildren, I'm the only one with any clear memories of him at all: my sister wasn't even three yet, my cousin was still a baby, and my other cousin wasn't born yet. I mostly remember things like him throwing a ball over the roof of his house (which never failed to impress me), his typical greeting to me ("Here Comes Trouble!") and his plaid upholstered rocking chair. But I'm told that he loved baseball and reading, and that he always had three or four books going at once.

I was also told that he intended to buy me Where the Sidewalk Ends for my birthday that year. After he died, they found a couple of books that he'd bought recently and never had a chance to read. My parents used the store credit to pick up Where the Sidewalk Ends for me, as a sort of last gift from him. Since I wasn't even six yet, my memory on some of these points may be faulty. I could even have the story all wrong: maybe he already had the book, and they just gave it to me, maybe the money came from somewhere else, I'm not really sure, but that's how I remember it. I also remember it as being the first "nice" book that I had. This was no board book, no paperback. This was even nicer than the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series that I liked in the local library (my father the history teacher hated this series, as it consistently stopped short of the part where the Americans actually became famous. So I would wind up knowing all about the farm on which, say, Babe Didrickson grew up, or the brother she had that died...but no idea why I should care.) No, my copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends had a hard cover and a glossy jacket and looked more like an adult book than a kid's book.

I still have my copy of it at home. I have a lot of special books: the one from the collection of my graduate-school professor that died, the one that the head of the drama club gave me before my last play with him, and some of the James Herriot books that my mother got as a special gift for the same grandfather that gave me Where the Sidewalk Ends. But I'd say that one is the most special to me.


jlshall said...

What a wonderful post - thanks for sharing your memories of that experience. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a great book - I think I've given it as a gift to just about every kid I've ever known, at some point.

Smilingsal said...

What a sweet story. Happy Booking Through Thursday. I’m giving away a couple of books. See my sidebar if you’re interested.