I grew up in a farmhouse full of books. My father, Robert Bly, is a poet; my mother, Carol Bly, was a short story writer. Poetry doesn’t pay, so there was very little money, though books managed to find their way into the house anyway. Christmas meant a stack of novels, emblazoned with my mother’s curly handwriting: Madison, Minnesota, Christmas, 1973. Or 1962 (the books started the year I was born). Or 2007, the last Christmas she was alive.
One year when I was around ten, finances must have been particularly tough. Though I realize in retrospect that the household was clearly strained, at the time I had no idea. We didn’t get a tree until Christmas Eve, which seemed exciting and novel. The next morning, there was the tree, stockings, and presents. Perfect joy!
Until I realized that there were no books under that tree. You see, if you happened to get some money on Christmas Eve in a farmhouse outside Madison, Minnesota (population 2,242), you couldn’t just drive to town and buy books for your children. They had to be ordered from afar, prepaid, and mailed in time to get to a rural route address.
I still remember looking across the crumpled wrapping paper at the Barbie doll I had asked for, and feeling a grueling sense of betrayal. I had pleaded with my feminist mother for that Barbie. But what I had counted on, without even knowing it, was the stack of novels.
My teenage son has a Kindle and free run of Amazon.com. Still, every year as I watch him rip open a stack of novels, I say a silent thanks to my parents for finding enough money for years of books --- and then another thanks for the Christmas when there were none. Stinging disappointment taught me a valuable lesson: that books will always matter more to me than
the world’s wide and various treasures.
-- Eloisa James
Check back this evening, as Katrina Kenison lists some of her family's favorite holiday stories, which they read aloud together every year.