Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Under Granny B's House

Have I mentioned that Pride & Prejudice is one of my favorite books? It's also a favorite of daughter Jeana, and now her Katie is reading it. I guess that is what got me to thinking about the first time I read it.
my grandmother's house was a frame house set on bois d'arc posts. Since it sat on a slope, one side was practically on the ground, and the other side was high enough to stand under. In this part of Texas, we just don't have cellars or basements (oh, except for storm cellars, which are usually not under the house). That space under the house was always cooler that outdoors in the summer. Granny B had shelves there where she stored her home-canned fruits and vegetables, potatoes and apples, and other stuff she didn't want to get rid of, but didn't have house room for. As the oldest grandchild, I was often sent under the house to get a jar of spiced peaches, chili sauce, or bread and butter pickles. I can remember how those jars glowed in the cool dark space, like jewels in a cave.
I also discovered books. Lots of books. Smokey the Cow Horse. The 'Nigger" of the Narcissus (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness author). Old literature textbooks. And Pride and Prejudice. My daddy's theory was that kids should be allowed to read any book in the house, because you never know what they will get out of it, and if they are not ready, they will put it down and come back to it when they are older. So nobody told me I was too young to read these books. I admit that I didn't understand everything (I had some *major* questions about Joseph Conrad, the title of his book, and racism). But I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice. In the long hot sunny summer afternoons, I would disappear under the house and read, and read, and read.
Mama woud take us to the library every week, and I discovered that those authors whom I had met under Granny B's house had written other books! Wow! What richness! I checked out a laundry basket full of books every week, and read my heart out.
The drawback to checking books out from the library was that Mama wouldn't let me take them up under the house, because she was afraid I would get them dirty, and then we would have to pay a fine to the library. I don't think the librarian would have noticed. She was too staggered by the sheer volume of books I read. She told me once that I should not check out so many books at one time, because no one could read that many books in one week. Mama had to explain to her that I read that basket of books in *one* week, and then read them again the second week, while waiting for the next trip to the library.
I loved reading under the house. It was a treasure cave, a port to other places and other times, a doorway into amazing adventures, and a cool retreat on hot summer days. I kind of wish I could still crawl up under Granny B's house and read.