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Rachael Berkey

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Bookworm in the Blood

Posted: 05/13/2013 7:02 pm

It's Mother's Day, and I know that this won't go up until much later than the actual holiday, but I do everything a little late for mothers. Why should this be any different?

Inevitably, I'm a little late to any shindig that features mothers -- just ask my stepmom. Today I'm choosing to be a little late to everything because I've been burying myself in books -- a distraction my own mother would most definitely approve of.

A lot of my bookworm qualities and habits stem from a childhood surrounded by and bolstered by the stacks of books my mother read. While the whole family was distinctly bookish -- we really have more books than is healthy -- my mom was book hoarder in charge. The living room, the dining room, the bathrooms, even the kitchens all had bookshelves on at least one wall. There was not a room in our house that didn't feature stories and typeface bound between cardboard to distract us from the real world.

Every night featured a story being read aloud in bed by Mom and sometimes Dad. Curled up under a worn out comforter, falling asleep against her side, I listened to the echo of her voice quietly volleying beneath her ribs as she told me of a secret garden, castles in the clouds, and an attic room fit for a little princess. I begged to be taught to cross stitch, knit and quilt after adventures in the Big Woods and the wide prairie with Laura and her sisters. I wanted dancing lessons after many rereadings of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Mom's soft voice lulled me to sleep with little fear that the story would continue the next day. It didn't always continue from the same spot. She had a "charming" habit of continuing to read after I fell asleep and starting up from where she stopped the next night. These nightly reading sessions imprinted on me so strongly that I still have a hard time falling asleep without reading something before turning out the light.

Mother's Day is never really fun for me anymore. Mom died when I was 19 and I choose now to spend this holiday hunting for new stories to read, trying to write stories I would have shared with her, and attempting the impossible: conquering my never-ending To Be Read pile.

The history of our mother-daughter moments are wrapped up in the pages of books. She wrapped birthday presents in the funny pages from the newspaper when we were little. She forgot to do laundry when we were on vacation but she finished her book -- an anecdote we still trot out whenever my siblings and I reminisce about her. As a teenager I would drag her from bed after she stayed up into the early hours reading and slept through the alarm so she could drive me to school.

When she died, I was making it knee-deep in George Eliot's Middlemarch for the first time. Even gone, books were colored by our interactions as I set it aside and couldn't finish it for a good six months because of associations and grief.

Even now, almost 11 years on, I find myself finishing a novel, picking up a collection of short stories, or winding up a story I'm writing with her on my mind and the wish that it was as easy as picking up a phone to get her opinion or insist she add something to her own To Be Read pile.

Mother's Day celebrates moms around the world. I celebrate mine the only way left to me now: through the books, stories and feelings she gave me.

 

Follow Rachael Berkey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bookoisseur

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