Reading didn’t come easy to me. I don’t remember taking trips to the library with my mother. Instead, I have a vague memory of her volunteering at the school library when I was in the second grade. She used to bring home stacks of children’s books. A few that stand out are the George and Martha stories; Paddington Bear and his many adventures; The Story of Ferdinand; and Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue. She never brought home Dr. Seuss books, or Where the Sidewalk Ends.
I don’t have memories of mom reading to me and I don’t know if I was actually reading these books or if the illustrations were so vivid, they made me feel like I was reading—reading the images. I do remember being scolded for reading aloud, which helped. “You’re not supposed to read out loud. Read quietly—to yourself,” she would say. Well, now I can do what I want. I love reading out loud. Maybe she was in a bad mood that day.
Out of all the books, the one that stands in my memory as a favorite is one that is out of print: Neat-O The Supermarket Mouse by Tom Tichenor with illustrations by Ray Cruz. It could be the title that left an impression, or maybe it was the illustrations, but it stayed with me enough that I felt the need to possess it again.
I remember searching the web in a fit of nostalgia. I was searching for two childhood items: A musical toy called Major Morgan and this book. That must have been a decade ago. All that stood out was Neat-O the mouse, his mother, and soap suds—something about it stuck, but the details, the actual story were gone, out of memory. All I could go on was a vivid blur. When the book arrived, the cover was just as I had remembered. I looked at the book with wide eyes. I was that child again. There was Neat-O with his soap suds. It was all coming back. The wonderful illustrations that brought this mouse’s story to life, his kind mother loving him, the mouse bullies teasing him because he smelled too good, and Neat-O’s decision not to bathe in hopes of warding the bullies off with his stench.
Yet, with all the bullying, Neat-O was still kind. It was the love of his mother that carried him through the little bumps. I am glad to have this book back on my shelves, glad to have a little slice of my childhood sealed in those pages where I can pick the book up anytime I’d like to be transported with the images and memories, and the emotions captured in the illustrative details.
Mom didn’t always show me outward affection, but I know she loved me, and she made up for it in the stories and characters that she introduced to me. She loved me through books in the most subtle ways, that my now grow up self can appreciate and embrace. She left me clues from childhood that she must have known I would look for in adulthood; at least that’s how my imagination likes to look at it. I never know what clue I will find next. I keep adding to my collection—my everlasting collage of her memory.