It's funny the things you remember. As we sorted through my Mama's diverse library following her passing, I was surprised at how attached my emotions were to books. As I handled the well worn pages of book after book, I found it almost impossible to part with some of these old friends. In fact I carefully tucked the tattered copy of Uncle Remus along with several others in my box of things that I 'just couldn't part with'. One look at this book and I am launched back into another time and place.
I mostly remember Uncle Remus from a habit my Mama developed on warm summer days when the afternoon thunderstorms rolled over the Blue Ridge mountains and threatened us with ferocious displays of wind and light. My Mama, terrified of thunderstorms, would gather my brother and myself and run for the innermost bedroom of our Carolina home. It was then that she would pull out Uncle Remus or some other delightful world of fantasy and began to read in her deep melodious southern voice. As the lightening popped and the thunder roared, we soon found ourselves laughing at the antics of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Laughing so hard she could hardly read, Mama soon forgot the perilous winds that howled just outside our doors and so did we. In fact, I came to love the sound of thunder in the distance, knowing what fun lay in store for us should the storm head in our direction.
My Mama had a gift. I don't think she was really aware of it, but when she began to read out loud, she would enter the 'make believe' world of the story she was reading and take you with her. A teacher for some thirty years, it was not uncommon for former students to approach us in stores or restaurants and the story would often be the same, "You were my favorite teacher" and "I loved how you always read to us on rainy days and after lunch". Her contagious love of books transferred to the many lives she touched.
When I think of my childhood, books were a big part of my relationship with my Mama. At the earliest age we made trips together to the little village library and sometimes spent several hours pouring over the books. I can picture it well, and can still hear the sound of the screen door slamming each time someone entered. I remember the delicious smell of the pages of the books and the skillful hands of the librarian as she methodically stamped the books. I secretly longed to have one of those "stampers" myself.
It was there that Mama introduced me to some of my childhood favorites, The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and The Boxcar Children. Armed with a stack of books almost as big as the little girl who carried them, we would leave our little library full of anticipation and wonder at what new adventures lay ahead. What a deep satisfaction she must have felt that I loved these books just as much as she.
Of course, the book she loved most of all was the Bible. A lifelong student of the Word, she never stopped learning and studying with youthful enthusiasm and interest. It was with a little New Testament that she knelt down beside my bed on a Saturday evening when I was just 8 years old. I was to be baptized the next day and she wanted to make completely sure that I knew what I was doing. So while my brother slept in a nearby bed, my Mama whispered me through the plan of salvation. I was baptized the next day, and so began the journey that continues to this day.
During her last few weeks of life, she didn't feel much like reading, which said a whole lot about just how bad she felt. But her Bible was still among the few things on her bedside table, and as she called out favorite passages I would turn to them and read. Just one day before she passed away we read together Psalm 23,..."though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". I'm not sure who received the most comfort from those words, for I was walking through that valley with her.
I'm so glad I got a chance to sort through the books, and especially glad that I got to take some of the ones that are filled with memories. Next time there's a good thunderstorm, I may just pull out good old Uncle Remus.
I know that Jesus talks about 'going to prepare a place for us' and He even mentions the 'mansions' in His Father's house. I have a good feeling about the place that He prepared for Mama, and I won't be surprised at all if it's filled with books.