When I think of my childhood, I think of books.
My formative years were spent with far more friends than could be physically seen or heard; they were spent with countless comrades whose lives and stories I gobbled up as quickly as the small metal cans of chocolate pudding that we were only allowed to have as a treat and whose company I kept with me long after the pages of their written stories had been told.
Ramona and Beezus; Laura and Mary; Pippi; Anne; Fern; Nancy; Margaret; Deenie; Sheila; Jill, Wendy and Linda; the tragic Dollanganger siblings — and many, many others: the list of my protagonist friends was long.
For those of us who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, in a world before the internet, Netflix, DVRs, and social media, and during a time where the only screen available to occupy our mind was the one that only had five channels and about two hours of good programming a day, books were our time-suck. Sure, playing occupied a lot of our time as well (playing [pley-ing] noun: exercise or activity for amusement or recreation) but the simple act of reading a book was a far easier choice to make when there wasn’t a plethora of other exciting options fighting to win the competition of how we spent our time.
My older sister and I not only devoured books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, we extended the stories and acted out the plot-lines on the front porch of the big old farmhouse we lived in for a year in 1978. When that stage grew too small for our two-person cast of many characters, we took our plays out into the neighboring cornfield, where we often added musical numbers and choreographed dances. I’m quite sure we changed the lives of the neighbors’ cows and the handful of stray cats who served as our audience forever with our adaption of “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.”
Books — and the friendships I found in them — fueled me, and as a kid who experienced a few family upheavals and moved around a lot, surely saved me a little, because these were friends I could take with me, no matter where I was going.
My girls have happily inherited the reading gene. They devour books, and my 18-year-old is an especially voracious reader, recently blazing through a 320 page book in two hours (she’s recently expressed an interest in being an editor, a job she already seems to have fulfilled one major requirement for).
While they never really clicked with some of the friends from my childhood, it makes me happy to know that when they think back on their childhood they’ll remember their own friends like Junie B. Jones; Jack and Annie; Greg and Rodrick; Harry, Ron, and Hermione; Bella and Edward; Katniss; Hazel and Augustus — and not just from the movies, but from the pages, and from the way they first conjured them up in their minds when they first began their friendships with them.
These are friendships that stand the test of time.
These are friends you can always count on to be there when you need them.
These are the friends you don’t need Facebook for to tell you they’re your friend.
The other day we were on a bike ride into town for pizza and I noticed my older daughter’s backpack was sagging like a loaded diaper.
“What do you have in that thing?” I asked. “We’re just going in for pizza!”
She gave me a sheepish grin. “A sweater in case it’s cold, my keys, my wallet … and a book.”
Because pizza always tastes better when shared with a friend.