The world is magical, thanks to books – Marin Independent Journal

When my baby brother and I were very young, living with our parents in a small rental house in Los Angeles, my father’s parents made rare visits from their home in Dunsmuir,  where my dad and his sister had been raised. Nano and Big Dad were an elegant couple, always immaculate, stylish — even wearing hats appropriate for the season.
To my young eyes they were from a distant world, living under the shadow of Mount Shasta, covered with snow year round.  We loved visiting them in Dunsmuir whether by car or Shasta Daylight train. My mother would buy a special treat called cactus candy from the vendor walking the narrow train aisles with a tray on straps around his neck. She would read to us when we got restless.
Big Dad was a trickster. He would solemnly give his special incarnation: “Abracadabra, sodium bicarbonate, methyl salicylate, ka phoo!” and pull a coin out of my brother’s ear. Laughter would swirl around us. Thus, I was introduced to one version of magic at an impressionable age.
Magical thinking is part of childhood. The world around us is a huge, mysterious place. Spend time with a 2 or 3 year old and you’ll quickly tire of “Why?”  My weary, asthmatic mother’s pat answer was, “It’s a law,” which silenced the questions but didn’t satisfy the curiosity.
Both of my parents were avid readers. We were fortunate that they both read to us at bedtime and whenever there were spare moments during the day.
My brother (four years younger) and I were born in the 1940s.  As the eldest, I was the observer when my mother read or sang lullabies to my little brother. Gender roles were rigid in my White, middle-class family. I had dolls and a playhouse (no boys allowed), paper dolls and coloring books. The books I remember are fairy tales, Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Secret Garden.”
My brother played with Tinker Toys. He had a kite and, when old enough, a two-wheeler bike. I watched and listened to my mother read “Magic Michael,” “The Little Engine That Could” and a book about a dog named Rufus to my little brother who was often sick with asthma.  My father took me to a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Hollywood Greek Theater when my mother was in the hospital awaiting my brother’s birth. Both of my parents came from pioneer stock. They were the first in their families to graduate from college, dad from Cal and mom from UCLA with a master’s in history and a secondary teaching credential from USC.
Fast forward to today.  Homebound due to COVID and various geriatric issues, my world continues to be a huge, mysterious, often frustrating and, recently, infuriating place. My grip on so-called reality is firm. But, thanks to caring parents, simpatico friends and family, and an endless list of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Gabriel Garcia Márquez and our own Isabel Allende, imagination, curiosity and fantasy continue to nurture me.
I couldn’t tell you what it feels to be bored. My world is magical. Pick up a book and you have the universe in your hands.
Susan Mines is a Terra Linda resident. The IJ has been asking readers to share their stories of love, dating, parenting, marriage, friendship and other experiences for our How It Is column. All stories must not have been published in part or in its entirety previously. Send your stories of no more than 500 words to [email protected] Please write How It Is in the subject line. The IJ reserves the right to edit them for publication. Please include your full name, address and a daytime phone number.
Sign up for email newsletters