For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile. Care to join me?
Joan Brand wasn’t an author, at least not of books. She wasn’t an agent, an editor, a proofreader, a bookseller, or connected to the publishing industry in any professional way. She wasn’t even a character in a novel (at least not yet).
Joan Brand was a teacher. Apart from my parents, she is probably the person most responsible for shaping me into the reader I am. I would go so far as to say that, in many ways, I probably would not be the person I am if not for her.
We met in late-August or early-September of 1970, when my parents enrolled me in Ampney Crucis Church of England school. She was already quite grey then, but she was a fiery, stern disciplinarian, although exceedingly patient and invariably kind. For some reason, she took a special interest in me, encouraging me to read at my own pace, and my pace approached Warp 9. If there was a curriculum requirement, I was never aware of it.
When the time came for me to move back to America, she gifted me with my own set of the fairy tales she frequently read to the “lower infants,” and the only two readers out of the set of 24 that I wasn’t able to finish during the school year.
Over the next several years, she sent me copies of Little Women, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. When my father was stationed in Germany, no visit to my grandparents in the Cotswold area of England was complete without me spending a day with Mrs. Brand. We played cards, listened to music (classical), and discussed books.
We shared letters, and reading lists when face-to-face meetings weren’t possible. She made a special point of reminding me that I have a foot on two shores, and knowing that I have profoundly European sensitivities, Mrs. Brand would always ask me “What books of your own country have you read?”
When my father was transferred back to England my Sophomore year of high school, the in-person visits resumed, although in a nursing home, and not her tidy bungalow. We discussed the morality of her primary caregiver (a wonderful lass who was, to Mrs. Brand’s consternation, living with her boyfriend without benefit of matrimony), and music, and current events, and always, always books.
My letters became less frequent when I went off to college, but I always wrote her a long letter at Christmas at the very least. Eventually, my hand-written letters gave way to typed ones, the font becoming ever larger as her eyesight failed her. I described my life in as much detail as I could, trying to show her the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, the power of the ocean, or just the delicate beauty of a flower, but I always came back to books.
I’m not sure when Mrs. Brand died, to be honest. She had long lost the ability to write back to me, due to her failing eyesight, and eventually one of my English relatives told me she had passed peacefully, in her sleep.
God rest your slumber, Mrs. Brand. I look forward to spending many hours talking about books when we meet again in eternity. And thank you for the most incredible gift anyone could have given me.