The copyright year on this sweet little book is 1965, which means I received it when I was just barely 7 years old. And oh, I remember opening the present as clearly as if it happened a month ago. My dad’s mother, whom I called Mamo (pronounce it ma’-maw), gave it to me for Christmas because I was the bookish grandchild. She’d placed it in an old cigar box, along with a new pair of underwear. I don’t remember the wrapping paper at all, probably because I was so thoroughly dazzled by the book inside (or maybe because that was 47 Christmases ago and I’m doing well to remember where my keys are). A real chapter book, a hardback book, a book of my very own, to keep. She’d taken me to the library when I was 4 so I could get a library card when I visited her in Tyler, and I was a serious borrower-of-books. I remember walking with her to the library, sweating in the incredible east Texas summers, but really just so eager to get to the library (and then home again with my stash) that I didn’t mind the heat too much. My dad was also bookish, so I think she felt that connection to me.
Honestly, I have no idea how in the world I still have this book. I’ve moved so many times, and for a couple of years I was homeless in high school. Where did I keep the book then? I can’t remember — maybe in my locker at school? I lived in a 1964 Nash Rambler one of those years, and I know my few books were stashed in the back seat. My car possessions included a few books, an agate chessboard and pieces from Mexico, some clothes, and a portable record player and some records. Many years when I was growing up we were constantly on the move, and in some cases, I just had a small shoebox of my belongings, ready to go at a moment’s notice in case we left without our stuff. That’s always where I kept this book — along with a pair of underwear, a hairbrush, a bottle of pink sparkly nail polish, and a toothbrush. The essentials.
In the years my kids were little, whenever we moved to a new place Katie had a couple of items she put away first, so she felt like she was home: her Barbie Dream House, and a little painting of Jesus. For me, it was this book. I’d place this book on a shelf somewhere in the house, and I was home.
The pages are brown and crumbly now, and I hold my breath when I turn them. But I do turn the pages and remember down in my very bones how it felt to read this book when I was a very little girl, how I identified with Jo (and still think about reading books in an attic with a bowl of apples like she did), how entranced I was by a boy named Laurie, so close to my name but for a boy, how heartbroken I was every single time I got to Beth’s death. I longed for a mother like Marmee. I read the books that came after, including Jo’s Boys, but none were as meaningful to me as Little Women.
These kinds of little objects, so incredibly precious, can never really communicate to anyone but the owner. My kids know about this book, and know what it means to me, but it can never mean very much to them except as a book their mother loved. But to me it holds my child’s heart, my sweet little dreams and joys; to me it’s one of the few warp threads that’s been on the loom since the beginning, and even though it’s frayed a little bit, it’s still mighty strong. It’s the only thing I own from my childhood. I have a few small things that mean a lot to me, but except for my children’s baby things, this one means the most.
I’d love to hear about your most special little thing . . .
good thing of the day: being able to make really good food for myself, like last night’s dinner of rosemary chicken, jasmine rice, and fresh spinach.