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Friday, June 24, 2011

THE BOOK ROOM




          In the summer of 1971, after my second year at the University of Tennessee, I had decided not to work for the summer and instead embark upon a hitchhiking odyssey throughout the United States to visit the places of my past.

          It was mid-June.  I was at the end of the first week of my travels when I found myself at the Greyhound bus station in Morgantown, West Virginia.  My last ride had dropped me there at my request.  I did not want to alarm my grandparents by letting them know I was hitchhiking and preferred to let them presume that I had arrived on this surprise visit by bus.  They didn't know I was coming, but seemed glad that I was there.  My grandfather rushed over to pick me up.

          They lived in a three story house on Wilson Avenue which was in South Park, a neighborhood of similar homes crammed closely together.  The house that my grandparents lived in had been built in 1906.  I had often visited there as a very young child and had so many wonderful memories.  Then, after moving to San Diego and later to Northern Indiana, the visits had become rare.  Now, returning as an adult, it felt like a homecoming.

          My grandmother showed me to the bedroom where I would be staying.  She told me that this had been my mother's room when she had lived there.  My mother's family had moved to the house in the forties when she was in high school and she stayed there until she got married in 1950.

          I first noted the large windows overlooking the avenue below and the large houses across the street.  But then upon entering the room a new wonder greeted me.  The entirety of one wall was a built-in bookcase. It was a wondrous sight even if it wasn't completely filled with books.  I was going to be here a week.  I knew what I would be doing much of the time.

         My fingers ran across the book spines as I perused the titles.  There was an eclectic assortment of books here.  Since I had recently changed my college major from psychology to English, I decided to begin with William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  I had read some Faulkner short stories in high school and was well aware of the prestige of this author.  My first choice for my summer reading proved to be a good one.

       With its large windows affording a comfortable breeze and ample natural lighting, the bedroom was an ideal reading room.  When I wanted a change of surroundings I would go to the large front porch where there was a porch swing where I could read between distractions of passing traffic or strolling neighbors.  This was small town America at its finest.

      After I finished The Sound and the Fury I read a couple more books that were in the shelves before noticing some books on a fireplace mantle of another bedroom.  Curious, I browsed this small collection of books until I was drawn to a small, but elegant little volume with the peculiar title Intra Muros. I immediately decided that this would be the next book that I would read.  Since it was short, I would finish it quickly.

      The story captivated me.  It was the author's purported vision of heaven while suffering near death from an illness.  The account was beautifully written in a haunting way.  I don't remember if I looked at the edition date, but I did take note of the author, Rebecca Ruter Springer, and I wrote the book title and author's name in the journal I was keeping so I would remember it later.  This was a book that I wanted for my own library.

      The time spent that week with my grandparents was wonderful.  My grandfather, who was a city councilman and knew many people, took me around with him and introduced me to many people I've long forgotten.  My grandmother fixed me wonderful breakfasts that we would eat at the kitchen table while listening to the swap and sell show on the local radio station.   The childhood memories flooded back to me and made Morgantown a real place experienced in adulthood. The Book Room--my refuge of reading--was the peaceful retreat that added that extra special of magic to my week at my grandparents' house.

       My grandfather died the following January--dropped dead at a city council meeting.  My grandmother eventually sold the house and most everything in it.  I don't know what happened to the book that I coveted so. After I returned home from my odyssey, I went to a book store to find a copy of Intra Muros.  It was out of print.

        For the next three decades I would periodically ask at bookstores about the book.  It was now a relic of the past.  However, after I had succumbed to the lure of the internet and began exploring, I eventually found that Intra Muros was now back in print under the less ambiguous name My Dream of Heaven.   I ordered it.  It was every bit as good as I had remembered.  As I read I was taken back to the Book Room in my grandparents' house in Morgantown, West Virginia.  Dreams come in many forms.







Intra Muros: My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer









           What book do you uniquely remember?   Have you ever searched high and low for a book that has gone out of print?





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55 comments:

  1. A lot of my youth was spent in secondhand bookshops and record shops looking for that one elusive item (the item itself changed from week to week). And then the internet turned up and that whole part of my life went away. Shame really, I miss that moment of discovery. Also, it got me out of the house which is always a good thing.

    mood

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  2. There are so many but I guess the one that first made me passionate about reading was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I would read it over and over. I lost count how many times I read it as a child. The book that made me want to write was The Stand by Stephen King.

    Ellie Garratt

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  3. Oh, those elusive books that go out of print. I usually have a few that I'm looking for whenever I go into a used bookstore. One of them that I found in the town of Hay-on-Wye on the border of England and Wales, was The Seacoast of Bohemia by Arona McHugh - one of two books she wrote about the bohemian set in Boston just after the 2nd WW. The delight of finding it on the cobbled together bookshelves that line the steps going up to the Abbey in a town that has more used book stores per capita than anywhere else, was extreme. I always look for Princess Pamela's Soulfood Cookbook, a staple of my hippy days but alas gone missing. It is on the internet but at a ridiculous price!

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  4. Wonderful to read Lee,
    Mempries and dreams are all part of our lives, I am pleased you found your book again. Must be a real pleasure to relive those dreams.

    Yvonne.

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  5. Glad you got to spend that week with your grandparents - and that you found the book. Some of the books I remember reading are now gone and out of print, but I still have one Skip & Spector book tucked away somewhere.

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  6. That sounds like a wonderful visit Lee.

    I've never heard of Intra Muros, but I love The Sound and the Fury. It's a tough read, considering the stream of consciousness narration, but it's considered an American classic for good reason.

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  7. Lee, I've never really searched for a particular book but I'm always on the look out for old Steinbeck books--oh and Hemingway. I love those old--dead--guys.

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  8. Believe it or not, up to this point, as large as my library, actually since you have to have 10,000 volumes to have a library, I should say my collection of books, is and as many books I buy, use, and read, I haven't searched high and low for any book even an out of print one.

    I guess the book that would fit your description for me would be the Island of the Blue Dolphin. I haven't read it in years, but it is a haunting book of a girl alone for 18 years surviving. I like being alone at times, and often imagined what I would have done if deserted on that Island all alone.

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  9. What a wonderful memory of your grandparents for you to keep.

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  10. Lovely post, Lee. Knowing the book of your childhood was still as good a read as you remember makes me want to read it all the more. ☺ I'm still looking for the book my Dad bought me to teach me to read. He would spend about 30 minutes each night before bedtime, patiently listening to me form the words of each story. There was one particular story about a lion named Leo I'd love to be able to read to my own children.

    Happy Friday! ☺

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  11. I've never done anything like the road trip you describe. Right from high school to college to work to graduate school to family. Sounds like such a cool thing to do.

    It sounds like you treasure the family visit as much as the books.

    When I was about 7 or 8, I went the Scholastic book fair at my school. There was a book called Hello Aurora. It was from Europe, which seemed odd to me at the time. The cover had a little girl helping her father with the baby. The back cover said the mom worked and the dad stayed home.

    What?!

    Can people do that?!

    I had to buy the book.

    It actually was a lovely story. A couple of years ago, I tracked the out of print book on-line. I read it, and loved it as much as I did as a kid. Right around that time, my daughter was sick. I read it to her. She was so enthralled, she kept requesting it until we finished it in one day.

    I thank that author for expanding my view of the world.

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  12. Mood-- The internet has been a game changer for sure. Sadly, many of those old style used book and record stores no longer exist.

    Ellie -- I think Stephen King has inspired many readers to be writers.

    Jan -- Love your memory. I have found many out of print books and records used for exorbitant prices. Supply, demand, and what the market will bear I guess.

    Yvonne -- It can be fun to think back on old times and reconstruct them in our minds.

    Alex -- Never heard of a "Skip and Spector" book.

    Matthew --- We read a lot of Faulkner in college Lit classes, but Sound and Fury was not one of them. I'm glad I read it that summer.

    Teresa -- I've searched for a few books, but probably more recordings. I used to spend hours in record stores.

    Gregg - If 10,000 is the criterion then I guess I correctly have a collection as well, but I still like to think of it as my library. The Blue Dolphin sounds like the sort of adventure we love when we are young.

    Mybabyjohn-- I wish I could have spent more times like that week in 1971 with my grandparents and in that house.

    Larri -- My parents bought me a lot of books, but I don't remember them reading to me or with me that much. But I was an avid reader as a child.

    Lee

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  13. Theresa M. -- I think I have a bit of gypsy heart in me. My family traveled so much that my desire to traveled continued into my adulthood.
    I used to like books about unconventional life styles as well. I read a wide range of topics. The book fairs were great opportunities to find interesting books.

    Lee

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  14. That sounds like an enchanting week! Many of my cherished memories involve books. I'm glad you found the book you were seeking!

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  15. love your stories as always, Lee!
    And I hope you won't get me wrong, but to die at a city council meeting seems like a great way to die since it means you die in a dramatic way, instead of a great entrance making a great departure.
    I'm happy you found your book in the end.

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  16. Beautiful story, Lee with a satisfying ending. It's great when something you searched for turns out just as good as you remembered :O)

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  17. I love this story, Lee, on so many levels. Glad you found the book you loved so much.
    Karen

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  18. What a riveting story. I also was greatly attracted to the title. I've always wanted an entire room of my own filled w/ books.

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  19. What a fun story to cap off the week. Glad you found your book. Searching tiny book stores are fun. You'll never know what you come across.

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  20. Laura-- It was indeed a magical week in a strange time of my life.

    Dezmond --My grandfather loved politics and I think passing from this life among his cronies and adversaries would have been preferred to dying in a hospital. It was a dramatically fitting end. And it was quick and unexpected with no suffering involved.

    Madeleine -- I as glad to have ended my quest for the book so I could focus on other quests.

    Karen -- Thank you. I do enjoy writing memoir material.

    Lisa from Nadir-- I wanted this story to relate to the theme that developed this week. A roomful of books! Like sometimes seen in the movies. Wouldn't it be cool?

    Stephen -- Perusing used bookstores can be like a treasure hunt.

    Lee

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  21. I always had to - I mean, I was privileged to - play canasta with my grandmother. Although I did spend large parts of time with her reading, as well.

    The book I sought for years was Anya Seton's Katherine. I found and began reading, at 14, a copy that had been my mother's, but when I got about 150 pages in, discovered it had been mutilated to provide a hiding place for my stepmother's costume jewelry. (Got in trouble for "messing with her things", too - who knew?)

    Finally found my own copy of Katherine later on, and have kept a copy ever since.

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  22. This beautifully written "memoir" took me back to my youth, especially the library that I rode my bicycle to in good weather to check out and read wonderful books, most of which I've now forgotten. Once I went back to that library, but it wasn't the same. And the book called Forty-nine Keys (I think that's the title, referring to the typewriter) was nowhere to be found. I now want to read My Dream of Heaven. I've written it down in my log notebook. I LOVE the Internet with all the independent used book sellers!!

    A wonderful post. Glad I stopped by today!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

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  23. Love the story and the shared memories. My parents were older, so I only knew one grandmother in a nursing home, but we went on many trips to visit friends and relatives.

    And my family were all great readers. I am blessed to have many linear feet of bookshelves and literally a ton of boxes of books in the basement. I've had many literary obsessions, mostly first editions or autographed science fiction books. Thanks for a good post!

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  24. Lee that was a nice story. I did a lot of small town America growing up and the experience can't be beat. I am glad my mom and sisters still live in a small town I can visit on holidays. Most special.

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  25. Beverly-- Apparently your stepmother didn't care for the book much. Good that you were able to find another copy and finish it.

    Ann -- I'm glad you stopped by as well. I don't remember most of my visits to the library or what I read from there. I do recall a book that I think was by Heinlein that really impressed me and I wished I knew what it was and be able to find it again.

    Julee-- owning first editions and autographed books would be a pretty cool collection that could be valuable one day.

    Chuck -- There's much to be said for living in a small town. Though some of those former small towns are starting to grow pretty big!

    Lee

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  26. What a beautiful story. I so recall 1971. I've also seen that book via the recent blog fest and now feel I know so much more about it. A book that stayed with me? Poldark, by Winston Graham. Loved the entire series and re read them several times. Tales of tin mining in Cornwall in the time of the smuggler.

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  27. There have been many books that I have looked for...mostly they were children's books that I wanted to share with my kids. What a great post! What a gift that you had that time with your Grandparents. Blessings, Joanne

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  28. Hi Lee .. loved this post - wonderful memories .. I feel like I know your grandparents, the young man and the small town of Morgantown .. thank goodness you visited when you did.

    Sounds like one of those blessed times .. I read so much as a kid and as a young adult .. and over the years have a few favourites ..

    Love this post - thanks for telling us about that brilliant time for you .. Hilary

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  29. What precious memories you have of your grandparents. I'm so glad you managed to get hold of a copy of that book. It's amazing what you can find on the Internet these days.

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  30. What a wonderful memory, Lee. Anne of Green Gables also sticks in my mind from my childhood. That, and The Handmaids's Tale from my teen years.

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  31. It is great that you found the book that you wanted so badly. It must feel great.
    Richard Scary's book for children "Rabbit and his Friends" is out of print. I feel really sorry about that as the copy we have at home is not in good condition. Oh well.

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  32. Such a wistful and beautiful page from your life, Lee. Thanks for sharing it.

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  33. Hi Lee! I love the vivid picture you paint from your memory, of the house, the breakfasts, the radio programs, the time spent with your grandparents. I could almost see it before me. And the 'Book Room' sounds wonderful...I could lose hours, if not days in there myself!

    The book I remember most from my childhood is "Where The Red Fern Grows"...we read it every summer at my grandparent's cabin. I would sit and read certain parts aloud to everyone and we all ended up crying together at the saddest parts. I believe it is still in print, by Wilson Rawls...I will have to see about getting a copy in my library!

    God bless!
    Trudy

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  34. I loved books as a kid, but the first book that really hit me in the gut was 'The Great Gatsby'. I cried. I just loved Gatsby so much and thought the world was so cruel.
    I still love that book and have throughout my life purchased, given away and re-purchased many different copies.
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  35. Rosalind -- The internet has simplified the process of searching for things.

    Talli -- I bought a copy of The Handmaid's Tale shortly after it was released. I think I read it, but I don't recall. I think I should still have a copy of that book and should probably reread (read?) it.

    Munir -- Not many of my books from childhood or those of my kids have survived the years. Those books get a lot of use, and sometimes even abuse.

    Pam -- Thanks for stopping.

    Trudy -- I would think that your library would already have a copy. It's pretty much a classic I'd say.

    Charmaine -- I've bought copies of books that I've loved to give to friends. They are usually glad that I shared.

    Lee

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  36. Cheryl-- The Poldark series sounds interesting.

    Joanne -- I recall looking for certain books for my kids when they were young. Maybe I'll be doing it now for my grandkids.

    Hilary -- I think you would enjoy the towns like Morgantown-- so quaint and historical.

    Lee

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  37. What a great story, Lee. So neat to be able to do something like that.

    I have been searching for years for a book that I somehow misplaced during my various moves. It may still be in print. It was a sci-fi short-story anthology, and in particular featured one story I LOVED.

    Something along these lines: A huge super-computer is built and asked the question "Is there a god?" Computer's answer: "Now there is."

    Any help would be much appreciated! I can't seem to find it on Google, either.

    (Forgive me for using your blog as a lost-and-found. Your post jogged my memory.)

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  38. What a beautiful story. Wonderful how good literature has that same quality good music has, of being able to connect us with particular times and places in our lives...

    I have a habit of raiding yard sales and Goodwills and so forth for cheap second-hand books with peculiar premises or intriguing titles. Some of them blow like Dizzy Gillespie after a half-marathon, while others prove to be hidden gems. One that sticks out for me is Joe Cottonwood's "Famous Potatoes," which depiction of America enchanted me and has stuck with me through the intervening years.

    I'll also give a shout-out to Susanna Clarke's astonishing debut, "Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell," which combines historical novel, comedy of manners, dark fantasy, bildungsroman, and two or three other genres in a narrative simultaneously epic and homely. A remarkable feat, of the sort that depresses and inspires a budding writer in equal measure because it's just so darn good.

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  39. What a lovely story and told so eloquently. I will have to read My Dream of Heaven, too. Always looking for inspiration.

    P.S. My friends and I also hitchhiked in the 70's. It was our main means of transportation. It probably wasn't any safer then than it is now, though. Good times, lol!

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  40. Hi Lee, I forgot to say in my last post that I'm a new follower!

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  41. Bryce -- I am not familiar with a story that has those lines, but I found similar references when I Googled the lines.

    Mojo -- those sound like some obscure books, but sometimes those are my favorites.

    Lady Gwen -- I would think it might be more difficult to get a ride these days. Back then it was a common mode of getting around for young people. And thank you for following and letting me know.


    Lee

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  42. Wonderful story Lee on how you became acquainted with the book!

    I've only searched once for an out-of-print book (violin technique by Donnis) and that was actually for my daughter. When I did find it, the price was not affordable.

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  43. Hello Lee. How on earth do you keep up with so many followers?
    The one book that I've been looking for for more than twenty years now is, "The New English Bible" Printed by the Oxford University Press. They stopped printing this particular edition in about 1970. Still haven't found one though. Funny thing that, you can find all sorts of books in a second hand book shop but no Bibles. Interesting. God bless, Geoff.

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  44. The book I remember is Black Like Me. i still have it, and so weird - I wrote about what that book was for me - where I found it just last week. We must be on some strange karmic link. LOL

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  45. That once certainly had an impact. I read The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain when I was in high school and I've been meaning to read it again. There was one called Lord of the Dance or so I believe. Haven't been able to find it and I know I have a copy somewhere in my home. Some books do stay with us and bring back memories of a certain time in our lives.

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  46. Ah, a fellow English major, eh?
    No wonder you're so well-read.

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  47. Oh, to be able to find an old title I loved before. Recently I tried online to find one of my fav from before but couldn't find it.

    So happy that you managed to find yours.

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  48. Paula -- Unfortunately high price for used product is the result when it's something good and in demand.

    Geoff -- To answer your first question, I wish I could keep up, but I don't--I try my best. I think Bibles are usually considered more personal and become heirlooms. Often they are marked or overly worn. My father once bought a huge old Bible at an auction, but I think it was something that was purposed for use on the pulpit.

    Jo -- I'll have to check your post about that.

    J.L. -- There are so many books that I connect to specific times in my life and those times come back to be when I reread a book like this.

    Andrew -- Yes, an English major who never finished and instead ended up with a degree in business management years later. I am pretty well read, but sadly I forget much of what I read.

    Nas -- Maybe the title got changed for newer editions? That's what happened to the Intra Muros book. Fortunately I also knew the author's name.

    Lee

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  49. Phentermine.....

    A nice post thanks for sharing.....

    http://www.PhentermineHome.com/

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  50. It's me again Lee heehee,
    I would like to thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with your grandparents... I bet there are many more memories from that summer! Your love of reading and books is truly inspiring, thank you for bringing back reading into my life... I appreciate you!
    Take care,
    Lisa

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  51. What a fantastic post! The memories you have carried forward into your life. I'll bet you have some other good stories from that summer.

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  52. Lisa and Pat -- Thanks for the comments and yes, there are many stories from that summer. I could probably write a book about and perhaps one day I should.

    Lee

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  53. I have a story about a similar hitch hiking journey as a young man. Mine (with a friend) was to Haight-Ashbury during the "summer of love" in 1967. My friend and I were both seventeen. We told our parents that we were going to spend the summer with my older brother in San Jose. He agreed to play along. For now (big post coming), I'll just say we had a very interesting summer vacation...

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  54. I have a wonderful book written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor. It was a book I loved to read over and over and had many memories attached to it. My original copy hadn't gotten destroyed over the years with my many moves. I went into a bookstore several years ago and they had a copy of it. I was so happy. I was finally able to read it with my children and share the joy and beauty of it.

    I love your story. Life is sweet!

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  55. This was small town America at its finest.
    This made me smile :) To me, growing up a half hour away from Morgantown in an even smaller town, Morgantown was the city!

    Thank you for sharing your memories of times spent in your grandmother's house. When you talk of Morgantown, I feel a physical connection to you even though you live on the opposite side of the country now. Is that crazy?

    I loved going through my mom and grandmother's old books -still do, but as a child, I enjoyed reading my mom's old copies of The Bobbsey Twins.

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Lee