Bread and Butter: On Love, Loss and Books

My beloved grandma, Nina Olive Close, died four weeks ago this Saturday. She was 93 and had been in failing health for some time, but her passing still took my breath away and has not given it back yet. Anyone who has lost anyone in their own life can relate, I am sure.

Inevitably, I find myself rifling through the memories of our 32 years on the Earth together. We spent many hours watching British television shows, talking about every subject under the sun, laughing until we cried, and... reading.

I was lucky to have been born into a family of readers; bibliophilia is a genetic condition for us. Grannie used to tell me that ever since childhood she felt that she needed nothing else for happiness but a book and some bread and butter. I've always loved that image -- English country girl, curled up on the grass outside with a book and a little snack.

In addition to supporting my love of reading, my grandma was one of the first people to support my love of writing. For my eighth birthday, she gave me a book called The Big Book. It was a fill-in-the-blank book for kids, with lines for handwritten text and boxes for scribbled illustrations. Best of all, it had my name stamped on the front in big, capitalized letters. My very own book? Mind-blowing.

Then, a few years later, she took a collection of my poems (which I brilliantly titled Thoughts and Feelings) and had them published as a tiny book at a print shop. She made copies for everyone in the family, and, decades later, it is still a great source of pride for me.

And then there are the books that we read together, which I truly believe should be a part of anyone's formative years:

The Bumper Book by Watty Piper - We had the 1952 edition, which had belonged to my father when he was young. The illustrations are gorgeous and the stories are adorable. This is a truly beautiful children's anthology. Grannie and I made up a little tune to go along with "Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers," and we sang it before bed anytime that we were together.

The Noddy Series (Noddy and His Car, etc.) by Enid Blyton - While there are modern versions available today, the ones I read were from my father's childhood as well. I loved Noddy and his little friends, and while the books were longer than others, she never said no to "one more chapter."

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion - I think this book may have been leftover from when my sister and cousins were small, but we read this story about a naughty dog dozens (hundreds?) of times. The writing is so lovely and the illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham are charming.

Sam and the Firefly by P.D. Eastman - I was always transfixed by the atmospheric drawings throughout the book. The pages conveyed the shadowy quiet of nighttime, but at the same time glowed with the firefly's light. When I found this book in my own library, several states away, I could not believe that this book could exist anywhere but Grannie's home.

How Spider Saved Christmas and How Spider Saved Valentine's Day by Robert Kraus - We read this whole series, but these two were my favorite. The stories and illustrations are beyond simple, but Spider is delightful (quite possibly the only arachnid who is) and the illustrations explode with color.

The Cat Who... Series by Lillian Jackson Braun - Grannie was always a voracious mystery reader, and very quickly exhausted her library's collection of her favorite authors. What did she do? She just read each one over again! The Cat Who... series were some of my first experiences reading "grown up" mystery books. My mother joined us in reading these, too, creating a makeshift book club of sorts. Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum-Yum will always have a special place in my heart. I believe The Cat Who Moved a Mountain was my first delicious entry into the series.

The day that we received the news of her death, the only place that could bring me any comfort was a bookstore. I went to the local Barnes & Noble and wandered the aisles of the mystery section, revisiting old friends. I can think of no better tribute to her, though of course I wished she could have been with me in person. But I like to think that she is somewhere better -- an endless, rolling green field, leaning against a tall tree, a book in one hand, and a piece of buttered bread in the other.