As a small child, a book just like this one captured my heart. The classic stories were page turners, but more interestingly, the same book had captivated my father’s imagination as a boy and then lay tattered and dusty in my uncle’s attic, waiting to be rescued and loved once again.
All of five at the time, we were visiting my Uncle Howard who was really our great uncle but that was a mouthful so uncle he was; although I will say he was great in every sense of the word and by far my favourite relative.
On beautiful summer Sundays, my family would pile in the car and head to the old homestead on the outskirts of town. My uncle's property ran along the Great Ridge and overlooked Mahone Bay town center and mouth of the harbour. As a small child I stand on the crest of the hill and overlook the countryside feeling amazed at how very big the whole world was.
Visiting my uncle was like finding a time capsule and crawling inside. He lived with the bare minimum his entire life, by choice not necessity and very little had been added or updated since the house was built in the late 1780's He didn't own a refrigerator let alone indoor plumbing which was an adventure in itself. You haven't experienced life until you've peeked down the holes of a three seater outhouse. Amazing stuff to a child who only knows the miracle of the one seated flusher. The drive home was always full of questions and I guess I obsessed over the workings of the outdoor toilet enough to leave a lasting memory although I don't recall the answers.
Like why is there more than one hole? Surely two people didn't sit together at one time, let alone three? Must have been crowded and stinky, or did different people, one at a time sit at a hole until the pile got too high and then moved to the next? Or were the holes of a particular size to fit the different bottoms, small, medium and large? And where was the toilet paper? And why was there always a catalog or magazines with missing pages? Why all the flies? We never visited my Uncle in the winter and I couldn't imagine sitting out there as the cold wind howled through the large cracks in the walls. The small building was also tilting precariously backwards like a leaning tower of pee..sa. Sorry......
The house was wired but only for lighting and a wood stove heated the place and cooked his meals, even during the humid part of summer. He would fire up the stove and fry us a hotdog and heat a can of beans for dinner and I thought it was the greatest place ever. I would sit on his lap in his rocking chair and if I close my eyes I can still smell the smokiness of his shirt and hear his laugh. There was a cold cellar where he kept beer for my dad and milk for us, chilled as cold our fridge. All the comforts one could need and adventure to boot.
What a treasure trove for an imaginative kid like me. I wasted little time asking permission to head up the stairs to wonderland so that I could rummage around in the bootee left from my father’s childhood and even my uncle's as this was his family home. Out of financial necessity, my grandmother had accepted board with my uncle after our grandfather, his brother, had been killed in the war in 1943. She raised four small children in this crowded, one and a half story Cape, with no convenience, no insulation and no running water or bathroom facility.
My father and his three siblings shared the larger bedroom in the upstairs, which also doubled as their play area. I remember listening to stories of pee freezing in the chamber pots and cuddling together stave off hypothermia in the middle of winter. This room was a link to my father’s past, where everything remained as it was abandoned. I was a fledgling archeologist, uncovering the mysteries of the past and unearthing childhood treasures of another time. The attic was peppered with metal toys, old dolls, shabby teddy bears, skates, baseball bats, balls, sleds and last but not least hundreds of old books and magazines. Cartons of them lined the eve walls, used as insulation against the cold winter winds, untouched since the day they were packed away. I rummaged excitedly through those musty boxes intent on what I might discover.
Through constant handling the pages were dog eared or torn, and my older sibling ripped off the front cover in one of her tirades, leaving the book in a sad state of repair. It was old and worn but still held the wonderment and magic to enchant me. I can't remember what fate it might have succumbed to but it probably got thrown in the garbage as its condition worsened. I dragged it around like a tattered old security blanket so it was probably weaned off me with a quick chuck in the bin. Unfortunately, mother is gone now, and with her the answer to my question, but the wonderful memories of reading those fanciful stories will always be with me.
A few years ago, I searched for a copy of this children's tome in every antique book store I came across and spent many hours on the internet trying to track it down. The search was difficult when I couldn't offer the actual name of the book, only the stories between the covers. And then, one night my search landed a result on Little Black Sambo. Someone on EBay was selling a close representative of my beloved book! It was slightly larger in size and it was covered in a green cloth instead of blue with a picture of kittens on the cover, but inside, the artwork was the same, the stories were the same, except for the addition of The Kittens Who lost their Mittens but let me tell you, I wasn't quibbling over an extra story. I bought the book on the spot and haunted the post office until it arrived.
Once the book was in my hot little hands, it was obvious it was a different printing than the one I had but everything else was the same including the inside cover artwork. You can't imagine how I felt, rediscovering such an emotionally significant part of my past. I was gleeful, just like that first time when I discovered it in my uncle's attic. . I went to bed early and curled up with my precious book and read it from cover to cover, out loud to my pups. wishing I'd had it to read to Shane when he was a boy....ah...maybe grand children someday....
The stories were still inside my head and the words so familiar! I welled up a few times as the memories flooded to the surface. I remember crying as Little Black Sambo said "Oh, please Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up", and then screeching and clapping as the tigers chased one another around the tree until they turned into a big pool of melted butter for their pancakes.
I screamed for Peter rabbit to run as Mr MacGregor chased him down, and I so feared the little Gingerbread boy wouldn't make it back home...calling hurry, hurry, hurry home. They sure don't write em like they used too.......