Tag Archives: Childhood

Book Junkie

As a writer and avid book reader, I’m often asked who my favourite author is, or whose work influences me the most, or what my favourite book is. All are difficult to answer as I read many genres, many authors, and many books have stayed with me throughout my life. I grew up in a household where books and reading were encouraged at an early age, indeed our mother taught us to read long before we first went to school. She read us exciting bedtime stories, fairytales told German and herself read all kinds of novels. With six of us in the family, the choice and quantity was large and books passed around as we grew older.

My father read science fiction, so I became familiar and enjoyed the work of Arthur C.Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. My older brother loved adventure stories so I soon became immersed in Treasure Island, The Coral Sea, Kidnapped and so on. My two sisters read everything they could get their hands on from Alice in Wonderland, What Katy Did Next, Black Beauty, and the list goes on from there as we grew older to all of John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos to name but two), Dennis Wheatley (The Devil Rides Out), Alex Haley, and Catherine Cookson. So many good writers, so many books to read, far too many to mention.

And along with all these books there were the comics and annuals we devoured including Bunty, Jackie, the Beano, Dandy, and Hotspur.

However, despite all these great stories, two in particular from childhood have stayed with me. The first is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis. I must have been about 8 or 9 when I read this. I was ill in bed at the time, a frequent occurrence when I was young. I remember the illustrations too, and longed that my wardrobe would open up to reveal a hidden, wonderful world where animals could talk. At that time I had no idea this was a complete set of these magical stories and with so many other books in the house, I didn’t seek out any of the rest. It wasn’t until my daughter fell in the love with Narnia series that I learnt there were more. And of course I was in my element when the film franchise came out. A few week ago I came across The Magician’s Nephew, sixth in the series but a prequel to the whole Narnia world and how it came about. I was engrossed from the first page.

The other story is from a “comic”. I use the word comic in a loose sense as, if my memory serves me correctly, it was an educational magazine for children, the name of which I cannot remember. We didn’t have this at home, I used to read them at my best friend’s house whenever I went to play there. On the back page was always a cartoon strip story of a family who lived under the floorboards of the house and used items taken from the house for their furniture. Cotton reels for tables, matchboxes for cupboards and drawers, doll’s house china. I loved those stories, the magic and wonderment, the concept, the impossibility – or was it? – that there were little people living inside our homes, but in later years I never could remember what the comic strip was called to go in search of the book. You’ve probably realised I’m talking about “The Borrowers”. I found this out when the film came out. I watched it, and was bitterly disappointed. Probably because I’m now an adult, a grandmother, and the film was aimed at children, as was the original book. But the magic in those comic strips lives on in my head. 

So in answer to who influences my writing, it’s all of the authors whose books I’ve read and enjoyed. My favourite author? There isn’t one, because I enjoy many including Rosie Thomas, Nora Roberts, Barbara Erskine, Jeffery Archer, Ken Follett, as well as those writers mentioned above and a whole lot more, but not everything they write. Some of their books I’ve not liked, but these are probably the authors I would go out of my way to read. And my favourite book? Again, there isn’t any one I could pick out because I’ve loved so many.

Kit’s Website and Blog  and Kit’s Art  Site

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A Christmas to Remember by Valerie J. Patterson

This Christmas season—like many others—has called for reflection over my life and the extraordinary gifts I’ve received.  Gifts that have transformed my life, or touched my heart in an incredible way, or have brought peace and comfort during a time I was certain none could be found.  This week, I was reminded of a very special Christmas from my childhood.  I hope you enjoy.

The first family home I can remember was a massive—at least to a child—and stately old home with hallways so long you could drive a child’s size car down it, complete a child’s version of a three-point turn in it, and drive back down it.  The basement consisted of three massive rooms in which my siblings and I rode our bikes during inclement weather and wintertime.  Huge house.

The top floor, which came complete with its own entrance, must have at one time been the servants’ quarters, and it had been rented out to a young couple who moved out rather quickly right before Thanksgiving.

Tradition in our house was to decorate the interior and our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  My dad would haul the boxes of decorations up from the basement along with our tree and while he worked on lights, Mom would assemble our artificial tree, and then we would decorate it as a family.

This particular year my dad went to the basement and came back up with an odd look on his face.  He and my mother went downstairs together and came back up together several minutes later—and with empty hands.  The atmosphere in our living room was very different than I could ever remember then or since.   A short time later, two police officers arrived and accompanied my parents down into the basement, where there commenced a muffled conversation.  After the officers left, my parents sat us down and explained that we’d been robbed.  That all of our Christmas decorations, our tree, some presents my parents had hidden down there—including a new leather coat for my mom—and even our dirty laundry had been stolen.

Included in the missing items was a porcelain angel that my great grandmother had given my mother.  If you gently pulled her slippered feet, her wings fluttered and she played Silent Night.  She was a family heirloom and about the only material item my mother truly cherished.  Gone also were stockings my Great Aunt Mary had knitted by hand and had lovingly knitted our names into each one.  Gone too were hand-painted glass ornaments that had been handed down to my dad.

Dad put on his coat, said a few hushed words to my mom, and left the house.  It was quite some time before he returned, but when he did, he was angry.  I can remember him telling my mom something to the effect, “They have it all.  Even the stockings are hanging up.  I stood at their door looking in.  It’s all there.  When I went back with an officer, the stockings were gone and so was the angel.  The rest of it—even though I could identify it—could have been bought anywhere.  The officer told me it was their word against mine.”

Apparently, the young couple that moved out so quickly, did so because they had broken into our basement and stolen everything that wasn’t nailed down or too large to be carried out.  We would never get back any of the possessions they stole.

That Christmas was perhaps one of the worst—and best—I can remember.  Our family came together that year and celebrated modestly but lovingly.  My parents made certain their children’s lives were not negatively affected by this event.  When our relatives heard about the theft, boxes of new ornaments came to our house, a tree appeared, even new clothes were dropped off.  We had everything we needed to make our Christmas all that it should be—the gifts of love and generosity were in abundant supply—and my family was truly blessed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned that year was forgiveness.  My parents taught us—by action and attitude—to forgive those that commit wrong against you.  I don’t remember my parents harboring any ill will toward the young couple that stole from a family that couldn’t afford to replace the missing material belongings.  What I remember most about that Christmas is that we had all we truly needed and perhaps a little more due to the kindness of others.

That Christmas is forever etched in my mind.  Not because of the robbery, but because of the lessons learned, the love shown, and the forgiveness given.  Isn’t that the true meaning of the season?

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I hope 2013 is paved in great joy and loaded with blessings.

Until next time…

“C” is for Candy by Valerie J. Patterson

When I was a kid there was a store a couple blocks from my home.  Kesslings Drug store.  It was a grand old store.  Hardwood floors worn and darkened with age.  A magazine rack tucked away at the back of the store.  An old fashioned soda fountain and counter with the little silver stools that spun around and around.  And a penny candy counter with the little brown paper bags to put your purchases in.

Recently, I was reminded of this little haven from my childhood when a friend and I were discussing tastes and flavors from the past.  I mentioned Tangy Taffy.  This was a foot-long bar of pulled taffy that came in a wide variety of mouth-watering flavors like Cherry, Grape, Watermelon, Strawberry, etc.  My favorite was the strawberry.  The point about Tangy Taffy was that it was deceptively sweet before it got eye-wateringly tart.  I loved this stuff.

Another favorite of mine as a kid was the edible lipstick.  Now this was an awesome invention in confection.  It came wrapped in gold foil, with about half an inch exposed, and resembled a tube of lipstick.  If you licked the top and spread it across your lips, it actually left behind a streak of what I would call hooker-red sugary color.  If it actually dried on your lips, they became rather stiff.  This stuff tasted wonderful—unlike the real thing, which rather tastes like one would imagine an old tire would taste like were one to actually lick an old tire.

One of my husband’s favorites as a kid were the boxes of candy cigarettes.  These were long sticks of bubble gum wrapped in a piece of paper that resembled a real cigarette.  If you blew into the cigarette a puff of ‘smoke’ would actually filter out.  Isn’t it amazing that they sold these things and no one actually banned them out of fear little kids would become addicted to smoking?  Neither my husband nor myself are smokers and yet, this was a rather novel piece of candy.

And let’s not forget the wax mustaches and lips that tasted great for about ten minutes at which time the wax became unbearable to chew any longer.  And speaking of wax, what about those little soda bottles filled with sugar water in a variety of colors?

Or the candy coins wrapped in gold foil?  Or those long sheets covered in candy dots—pure sugar!  Oh and another favorite—Black Jacks!  The black, white, and pink striped pieces of taffy that had a very hard to describe but rather delightful taste of anise and spearmint rolled into one.  Razzles—the candy that magically changed into gum!  Giant Swedish Fish!

All of these things could be bought with a penny.  I’d take a quarter with me and come home with a sack of delights I would munch on then hide in my sock drawer hoping my sisters wouldn’t sniff them out, and rob me blind.

Kesslings is still there.   You can still buy a brown paper sack of penny candy, but it’ll cost you a lot more these days.  The cherry cokes are just as delicious, and still made the old fashioned way.  Sadly, the candy lipsticks are now crunchy sticks of tart candy that don’t leave behind any color.  They don’t make Tangy Taffy any longer, which really is very sad.  My husband recently bought me a package of Razzles and they were almost as good as I remembered.

My oldest sister still lives in my hometown.  When her son was little, I took him to Kesslings.  As my feet walked across the hardwood floors, I was transported into a simpler, more magical time—my childhood.  Never lose the flavors of your past.  They make you who you are, what you remember, and what emotions you feel.  Be open to new flavors, new memories, and new nuances of yourself.  There’s no better way to go through life than by tasting it.