When I was a little girl, I wanted to be lots of things when I grow up. And when I finally did grow up, happily I found out that I COULD do lots of things. And now i realize that my Dad–or at least his desk–had a lot to do with it.
I remember being interested in archaeology as early as the second grade. I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and open the box of books under my father’s desk. These, however, were boxes we really weren’t allowed to touch, because in them were very expensive books for which Daddy was paying installment. There was this 5-book series that I particularly liked–the Modern Knowledge series. There were five volumes: Man Probes the Universe, Explorers of the World, World Beneath the Oceans, Treasures of Yesteryears, and Animal Behaviour. My favorite was Treasures of Yesteryears. Come to think of it, I also was interested in Astronomy around that time, so my other favorite was Man Probes the Universe. Of all the kids in my second grade class, I could draw the best solar system, because of my first-rate reference book. And they were not illustrated kiddie reference books, mind you. They were honest-to-goodness reference books for grown-ups.
It seemed that my dad was keeping the books in the boxes till my siblings and I were older, and he was saving up to buy a bookcase with glass doors where he could lock them in. But at one point he must have decided it was pointless to keep the books in the boxes, which could hardly contain them anymore anyway because they had eventually worn out from our secret reading sessions under his desk, and so one day he finally took the books out in the open and let us kids read them, even if he believed we were still too young for them. And so I grew up never being intimidated by huge amounts of text to a page, because at a very young age I was already enjoying reading encyclopedias. This is why, also, even up to now, I love doing research.
Because our dad was a farmer’s son, his view of books was pretty utilitarian. He never bought us Dr. Seuss books and bought very few picture books. Just about the only illustrated books we had were a set of My Bible Friends.
So for my childhood reading, I lapped up stories about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii, the short tragic life of the boy king Tutankhamen, the histories of the lost civilizations of Alexandria, Mesopotamia, Maya, and the lives of real Indiana Jones characters like Howard Carter and Heinrich Schliemann.
Pretty soon I was reading beyond ancient and lost civilizations, and was reading the biographies of European monarchs and their mistresses, the various saints and martyrs, and the colorful lives of artists like Hieronymous Bosch, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.
It’s the rain. I remember those childhood days. And the vivid smells– of the rain, of the pages of the books, of the carton boxes mingling with the faint musty wood of my dad’s desk.