I thought I loved poetry because I read so much of it at university. I was a rabid English Literature Major.
You know the type. Very serious. Dressed in black. Always with a book in hand.
(Actually, I’m still like that except for the “very serious” part. That was always hard for me to pull off.)
I had it all wrong. My love of literature, especially poetry, was there way before I became a pretentious English Major.
I learned to love poetry during the long summer days I spent with my maternal grandparents in the beautiful hills of West Virginia. I would go and visit them for a month or longer in the summer.
My memories of that time are dreamy ones, fragrant with the sweet peas from my grandmother’s gardens. There was a huge weeping willow in the side yard. Mr. Evans across the street kept chickens that I visited daily. There was an old fashioned soda shop and movie theater.
I had a best girl friend, Maureen, who lived across the street. Later I would have my first real boyfriend, Bob, who was movie star handsome and had a big swimming pool in his backyard. My grandmother caught us kissing in the den. I was mortified.
My grandfather was a doctor, the old fashioned kind. He made house calls, some of them on horseback. He delivered all the babies in town. He drank whiskey and smoked smelly cigars. He was brilliant and gruff and I loved him.
My grandmother was sweet, smart, and cultured. She graduated from college in 1916. She played piano beautifully, and despaired at my lack of musical talent. I took lessons for years and still can’t play.
She insisted I call her “grandmother.” Once I called her “granny” and she was not amused.
It was a different time then. Quieter. There were two channels on their TV, neither of which came in very well. We never watched it. I was never bored.
Their house was full of books, none particularly suitable for a girl my age, but fascinating nonetheless.
After I finished all the Nancy Drew books I brought with me, I would start on their bookshelves. First I sampled my mother’s old college textbooks, one of which was Bocaccio’s “Decameron”. If you haven’t read it, it’s very risque. Very.
This copy was graphically illustrated.
My grandmother never said anything to me, but she must have seen me reading it because it disappeared. Hasn’t been seen since.
Then I would start on the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Wonderful for a kid. I read years of Best Sellers and remember many of them, especially “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. I didn’t sleep for a week.
But my favorite book of all was a well worn paperback copy of “The 100 Best-Loved Poems of All Time.” I read that thing over and over again.
I’ll wager almost every poem I’ve posted here was in that book. It taught me to love poetry. There aren’t many books like that.
I’ve tried to find a copy, but I’m sure it’s long out of print. I did find a something similar and have ordered copies for myself and my grown children. I will insist they leave it around for their own kids to find. The best present a “grandmother” could give. 🙂