My mother loved books, and although she had not graduated from high school (she received her GED when I was enrolled in college), she made sure she passed on her love of books and learning to her children. So once every two weeks, she walked my sister and me to the Center Street library, where she checked out several books, and where Suzie and I also found books to take home and to read.
Somewhere over the course of my childhood, my mother received a set of bound, green covered books, fictional accounts of a family from Canada: The Whiteoaks of Jalna (written by Mazo de la Roche, Collier and Son, publishers). I still have the six volumes, a wonderful set of books I set out to display on beautiful fir shelves in our living room. When I was old enough to read these books, Mom and I read the books. And we talked about what we had read, those fictional people, whose lives were much more privileged than ours, that beautiful country land, such a stark contrast to the streets lined with narrow, rented flats in the city.
What I remember most about those books is how they awoke my mother’s fancy, as well as mine. We loved the characters. We talked about the happenings in the books, as if we had witnessed these happenings in our own lives. And we admired – maybe even had a crush – on the eldest son, Renny Whiteoak.
Renny was a red-headed, ruddy young man, strong, good looking. Over the course of the books, he grew from a young person into a young man. And both Mom and I fancied, from time to time, that we had seen Renny. Sometimes, as we rode in the car (Mom learned to drive and got her driver’s license when I was in Junior High), one of us would point out a young man on the street: “look, there’s Renny!” And we’d both agree that we’d seen him, again.
Mom sparked my imagination, and I expect she sparked mine because her own was lit. She would remind me – in later years, when I discovered my anger at what my folks had or had not been able to give me – that she had grown up in a different way than I had. And that included making space for books, for imagination, for a world that would grow to be larger than the world I was coming up in.
Now, I love seeing those green covered books on my shelf. They hold a lot of memories for me. Lately, I’ve been reading again – for the fourth time, I believe – Jane Eyre. As I remember the legacy my mother gifted to me, I expect I’ll be reading about Renny Whiteoak again, too. Maybe I’ll even see him on the street.