When I read

A long time ago, I got a copy of Heidi for Christmas from my Nanna. It was a new copy, a hardback, the paper cover pink, clean, and tight, and I clutched it because it was new, and it was mine.

There were words in that book new to me, alps, swiss cheese, goatherd, and my mind approached and folded itself around each one. They provided such sustenance that each word still lives in me, buzzing with noise and life, alps high and cold, iced with height, shredded with wind, massive rock, lichen, tiny paths, death to the careless. Grandfather.

And swiss cheese. Salting the bread somewhere. Good. During adolescence, I only wanted swiss cheese; my mother looked at me exasperated. It was her mum who gave me that book. Her mother, Florence, one of thirteen children, who never had a book. Or even a second pair of shoes. Why did she give me a book? Did she know what she saw setting in motion when she wrapped it? Did she know? Did she know that she, Florence Edith of Nailsworth, Adelaide, would now live forever?

Goatherd. A boy. But after I read Pippi Longstocking, a goatherd would be a girl. Or anyone. The alps; height, against a sky of sheer hurtful blue. I read it in a chair in a dull lounge room on the South Australian Eyre Peninsula while the rest of the class gazed glassy eyed at Dick and Dora, those advanced paragons. But I was on a goat path, as wide as a strap of licorice from the store down on Brocks. I had ice in my ears. I had terror. Heidi. Peter. Grandfather. The bread rolls in the cupboard. Bread rolls could be two things, stale and hard or soft, fresh demons of silk. I put the book under my pillow to read again later. I slept with my arms up in the air, I was pulling myself up the cold green track because I was a goatherd.

Then, one day, someone gave me a copy of Gobbolino, The Witch’s Cat…

Image by Nancy Gruskin

4 thoughts on “When I read

  1. Lovely. I remember Heidi, the book and the film. I read it inbetween my brothers’ Biggles books. I didn’t want to be Heidi, though I learned from it that girls had other options than housework, but I did want to be Biggles.

    Sad that your grandmother never had a book, but I’d be willing to bet she wanted one when she was a girl. But she gave you one, and that’s a great thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read Heidi in 4th grade. We were between houses, so we didn’t have all of our stuff, no dictionary and all those new words! Heidi was difficult in places because of that. In our temporary rental, someone had left Heidi behind. It was a book I wouldn’t have picked up on my own because the cover looked too saccharine. Even though it was a hard book for me, I greatly enjoyed it and secretly read past my bedtime . . . you know, the flashlight under the covers thing.:-)

    Liked by 1 person

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