16 August 2012

In Search of Lost Books


by Eve Fisher


A while back, a friend of mine was going through treatment, and I read the 20 questions they give you to see if you're an alcoholic.  I looked up at the end and said, "Well, if you replace the word alcohol with books, that's me."  I am a bookaholic.  I get up planning what I'm going to read that day.  I have books in every room, and a stack of books by every chair that I claim as mine.  I read new books, re-read old favorites, and I am still searching for a few books that I read as a child but either can't find or never did find out what they were. Proust can have his madeleines; I have books.

When I was a little girl, in first, maybe second grade, in Escondido, California, our teacher read a Western aloud to us.  I’ve been trying to find it ever since.  Our teacher was Hispanic, with lustrous black hair and eyes.  Her voice read steadily, with meaning and accents in all the right places.  It was about a cowboy who came down into what was then northern Mexico, and today is Southern California:  the Salinas Valley, perhaps, or Escondido, or one of many other valleys. 
He came down over the hills, I remember.  The description of the brown hills, that look so bare from a distance, but are covered with tall grass, yucca, sage, short cactus, poppies, and all the plants of the chaparral, the description was perfect.  They were the same hills behind our house, once you went over the main hill, the one on which a thin ribbon of a one-street suburb rose to lemon and orange groves, which in turn gave way to avocado groves, which in turn broke open under the blue sky to a mansion on a hill, a mansion with fir trees, a pool, and a view.  Those belonged to the grove's owners, and they also had peacocks, which wandered, crying in the afternoon for love or rain as the clouds piled high and purple behind the dark glossy green of the avocado trees. 

I walked my way through the groves, avoiding the mansion – they didn’t like trespassers, even or especially not children – and emerged on the crest of rolling hills that went on forever.  Scrubby, brown, endless; mottled with color, blazing with poppies – I don’t remember the cowboy’s name, but I knew where he had been, and could hardly wait to see where he would go.

He ended up with a Spanish wife, another woman with lustrous black hair and eyes, whose voice was accented and soft.  They had a son, and I still remember the scene where they decided what to name him.  They chose his first name, which I have totally forgotten.  What I do remember was when his wife said that only one name wouldn't do.  You named a child after everyone who was important to you:  grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, best friends, and acquaintances.  But our cowboy was all alone, and I think what impressed me was that it was the first time he realized how alone he was, because I felt much the same.  He could only think of one friend, Joe.  “d’Joe” she said, pronouncing the “j” as “h”…  And it became the son's middle name. 

I remember that.  And no more.  I asked the teacher, at the end of the year, what the name of the book was – and she couldn’t remember.  But I’ve wanted to read the rest of that book for a very long time.  I want to know what the rest of his - their - journey was.  Maybe some day I'll find it.  If it rings a bell with anybody, please let me know. 

8 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I don't know the book, but I like your scenes!

Fran Rizer said...

Sorry, Eve, I'm not familiar with the book you're seeking. I will, however, check with the children's librarians I know. Perhaps one of them knows it.

Janice said...

In some ways I think books one does not complete or loses are the best as one is left with the memory of possibilities.

Robert Lopresti said...

Boy, those first paragraphs resonate for me. anid I am still looking for a few great short stories I read years ago. Good luck with tthe book... Have you tried asking on a western ariters website?

Herschel Cozine said...

EvA stab-in-the-dark guess. Try researching Will James. He wrote for the younger set. I am only familiar with "Smoky", but he wrote a ton of stories. Good luck!

Eve Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eve Fisher said...

Screwed up the last comment. Thanks for all the tips - I will check them out. Another story I read years ago - not for kids, though - was about a NYC guy who hung out with various bohemians, etc., and there was this young woman who was with an artist who was in very bad shape. Eventually the guy died of TB or something. Anyway, the point was that the narrator kept running into the woman over the years, and every time she was with a new, terminally ill man. Eventually the narrator becomes very ill, and she comes to tend him - and he freaks, because he knows it means he's dying. Really well told, and much more suspenseful than my synopsis suggests.

John Floyd said...

I don't know the book you referred to, but I'll be on the lookout for it--I love westerns. And I sure enjoyed the column.