Every Friday was book day in our house. Well, not for anyone else, but for me. Every Friday my Dad would head off to work, like he always did, suit and tie, polished shoes, moustache blazing. And every Friday afternoon he would come up the driveway, tie a little loosened, moustache a little awry (it was a magnificent mo’ and probably deserves a blog of its own) with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm. I would watch him from the front room, trying not twitch the curtains too much as he came up the path with that slow loping gait of his. Unhurried, unflustered. That was my Dad.
He would come in the door, put his bag gently down, acting as if there was nothing unusual happening. He would continue on with his languid movements, kissing my Mum hello and pretending that he didn’t have a bounty of adventures under his arm. Meanwhile I would be hopping from one foot to the other, almost peeing my pants with excitement, and trying to act nonchalant (this was part of the charade we played) waiting, waiting. Hoping the paper bag was book-shaped and for me, and not Darrel Lee chocolate-shaped and for my stinking little brothers. Spoiler alert: it was always book-shaped.
I don’t know when bookdayFriyays started, but I lived for them.
And I don’t know if my Dad knew how much they meant to me. I wish now I’d told him. I wish I’d told him how I would wake up on Friday mornings with the delicious hope that today I would get a book. For it wasn’t like Christmas, when despite the threats of parents about good behaviour, we knew deep down that we’d at least get something. Bookdays weren’t guaranteed. Bookdays were a treat. And there is no day in the world that isn’t improved by having hope.
Eventually he would do that little cough he did before all important conversations, and say, “What’s in this bag, I wonder?” By then I’d be ready to lose my mind, but instead I would say, “Um, is it a Trixie Belden?” And for thirty six amazing weeks it was. Apparently as Trixie gained popularity among girls of a certain age, some of the books became difficult to source. So not only did he have to remember which one I was up to, but to find it in the bookshop after his “Friday business lunch” (it was the ’80s remember, and Bob approved of such things), no matter how elusive volume fourteen was. As the years went by the books changed, but to be honest, it’s the Trixies I remember the most.
And though I know that bookdays can’t possibly have been every Friday, when I rewind through the years, it feels like they were. It feels like I spent hours waiting by the window, and then even more hours reading on my bed, then later, under the covers, binge-reading by torchlight. I’d read it cover to cover on Friday, and then again over the rest of the week, savouringly. My Trixie addiction taught me to read for content and then for context, where on the second read I’d notice language constructs and finer details that I’d missed the first time. I still do that now, dog-earing pages, underlining, re-reading, and looking for treats that some authors leave for people like me who love the way words are put together.
People sometimes say I read a lot, and it makes me tilt my head to the side as I wonder what they mean. Compared to what? Compared to whom? Reading does so much for me: it’s where I learn, it’s how I make sense of the world, it’s my form of mediation, it’s where I make new friends and catch up with old ones, it’s where I go on adventures and lose my sense of self. I’ve lived a thousand lives through words laid carefully on pages, honed by wordsmiths. To read “a lot” is to live fully.
I do wish I’d had the chance to tell my Dad about the lives he’s helped me live. It’s been a wild ride: it’s been big and bold and full of bright colours. My lives have stretched through the centuries and even through the worlds: “there are other worlds than this.”* and my Dad gave them to me in a brown bag.
I hope he knew.
*From the Dark Tower by Stephen King