She loved to lie in the grass and read paperback novels, while my younger brother and sister and I splashed about in a kiddie pool on quiet, Kansas afternoons.
Mother was a compulsive reader and every time she finished a book she would proudly proclaim, now that was the best book I have ever read. Until she finished another book, then that became the best book she had ever read. So the cycle continued for an entire summer: reading, splashing, sunburns, and paperback novels flapping in the wind.
Of all the books mother ever read, the one that sticks out most in my memory is Herman Wouk's The Winds of War.
One tranquil July, sprinklers swishing and lawnmowers humming in the distance, mother put her swimsuit on and went outside to sunbathe and finish The Winds of War. Hours passed while my younger siblings and I frolicked about, until finally, down to the very last page, mother got up for just a moment (as many avid readers do, in order to give reverence and pause before finishing a good book) then, when she returned, our dog, Deacon, was gnawing and slobbering all over The Winds of War and the very last page was missing.
This was tragic, I remember thinking to myself. Up until that point in time Old Yeller had been the longest book I had ever read and it seemed like a tome. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to read something so long as The Winds of War and not be able to finish the very last page. "Whatever will you do?" I remember consoling my mother. We had no money to buy a new book, the library was closed, and lord knew no one else in our nonliterary circle of friends had this atrociously long novel lying about.
But mother was a sly one. Swiftly she threw on a blouse and some flip flops, hurried my younger brother and sister and I into a nineteen-sixties station wagon ... and nary a word, drove like a mad woman down to the local drugstore, where she strutted in, sunburned, bare-legged and resolute, three soggy kids in tow, straight toward a spinning rack of books, picked up The Winds Of War, intently read the very last page then gently placed it back upon the rack, turned, and strutted out the door again.
Three elderly townsmen stared, jaws agape, at this spectacle they had just witnessed. And as our car eased from the curb, mother proudly proclaimed, "Now that was the best book I have ever read."
I was impressed with my mother that day and never forgot The Winds of War. And years later, during a late night game of Trivial Pursuit, before my husband's drunken college buddy could slur the words from his mouth, I knew the answer to "Who wrote The Winds of War?"
It was rare moments like these when I cherished my kooky, crafty mother the most. She didn't give me much, but she instilled in me a love of reading and books and for that I will be eternally grateful.
So what's on your summer reading list?
Nothing so long as The Winds Of War, I hope.
I am in need of some ideas.
These are the books I have read thus far and am happy to report that I recommend all three:
If you haven't read Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day then you are in for a treat.
The Optimist's Daughter is a classic that does not disappoint.
And My Cousin Rachel was worth feeling like a zombie the next day after staying up all night to finish.