Saturdays with my father. There is something about the approaching Christmas season that finds thoughts of my dad never far away. A friend posted recently about a memory with her father and my mind was off and running with so many memories of my own. I was transported back to my childhood, the magic of books, and how it was instilled by a weekly adventure. Every Saturday, just my dad and I, would hop on a bus that would take us across the Angus L. MacDonald bridge from Dartmouth to Halifax to a used bookstore near the waterfront.
On good days we took the ferry, and to this day the smell of marine diesel evokes happy memories and I must admonish myself not to breath too deeply or for too long. While crossing the bridge we could look down into the harbour, where only 50 years before, on December 6, 1917, it was the site of the Halifax Explosion which obliterated much of where we were crossing and killing thousands – the most devastating man made explosion in the pre-atomic age. Now fully rebuilt there was no hint of the previous disaster, but rather we looked down onto the fleet of the Canadian Navy. As my father was recently retired from the Navy, I was well-schooled in the names of the ships and able to recognize each ship by the number on it’s hull. I could determine which ships were American based by the way their numbers were painted, always with a shadow along the number’s edge. Two buses later, or a bus and a ferry, we would walk up the steep hill that led to the Citadel, a fortress which has stood in various incarnations since 1749 when Halifax was founded. Before we would reach the pinnacle we turned off onto Barrington street with a short jaunt to our destination – the second hand bookstore (whose name eludes me all these years later).
Dad always carried a large paper shopping bag. This was filled with his purchases from the week before, being returned for credit towards this week’s purchases. His genre was mostly westerns with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mickey Spillane thrown in with equal measure. My personal reading came mostly from the public library and the countless books purchased through the Scholastic Book Clubs. Our family never had a lot of expendable money, but books were deemed a necessity just as important as the food on our table. When I was younger, these trips to the bookstore seemed somewhat tedious – there did not appear to be a children’s section – which I now see as being very odd. My dad would take (what seemed like) hours to collect his reading for the week and the only thing keeping my patience was the next step in the adventure. Lunch at Gus’s Grill, not far from the book store. The place where I would order fries with gravy with a fountain coke and my dad a full breakfast – 2 eggs over easy with 4 rashers of bacon, toast, and a pot of tea. There are times when this next step didn’t occur. I remember being very disappointed and my dad unsympathetic to my despair. I now recognize those times as there not being enough extra money for our lunch. The book shopping still took precedence, ingraining even further their importance. As I got older, Harlequin romances caught my eye and they were in abundance at this bookstore. Might I have one? Pick as many as you’d like would be the answer (the price in the early 70’s being only 10 cents). And just like that, my weekly pilgrimage involved my own bag of books (perhaps a size or two smaller than my dads).
The return trip was filled deep in thought, planning which book I would start with as soon as I got them home. Once home, I would put the books in a pile according to the order in which I planned to read. I still do. My dad would relax in his recliner chair with his bag of books to his right, and another empty shopping bag to his left. He would grab a book from the right in no particular order, read it, and then place it in the bag to his left. By the end of the week the transfer was complete and off we’d go.
It is no wonder that I eventually become a librarian…but it was not a direct route. It evolved. The universe is great like that, moving you to where you need to be and giving you a nudge when you need it. But that’s a whole other story. I loved my job as a middle school librarian, connecting students to books they never knew they wanted but kept coming back for more. I would always share with them my experience with the fantasy genre. I would honestly say that dislike it immensely – but Harry Potter (and Outlander – but you can hardly recommend that to middle schoolers) are the only series I have read more than once. And still to this day, it is not the genre I gravitate too – and yet never fail to enjoy.
Scholastic played a large role in my reading and professional career. Firstly being my monthly portal to new titles throughout my school years, and lastly, to having hosted over 50 book fairs and making them a big event in my student’s lives. When a student didn’t have enough money for a book they wanted, I would whisper to them, ”I will choose this one for the library and you will be the first to take it out”. The day after the book fair ended they would arrive at my desk asking, “is it catalogued yet?”. “No, but read it anyway and I will catalogue it when you are done”. If it never came back? Well, they print new ones every day, don’t they?
I still prefer actual books, but having a kindle brimming with TBR titles prevents the threat of being buried alive from a large stack on my night table. I may have retired, but can sometimes be found offering children advice in the book section of our local department store as I peruse my next purchase. And it all began with my father.