Up in the Garret


Books, books, books!

I had found the secret of a garret-room

Piled high with cases in my father’s name,

Piled high, packed large,—where, creeping in

and out

Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between

the ribs

Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there

At this or that box, pulling through the gap,

In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,

The first book first. And how I felt it beat

Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read!

My books!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Anna Quindlen in her splendid 84-page book How Reading Changed My Life describes reading as her “perfect island.” She doesn’t say where the island exists, so it can be anywhere the reader imagines it to be.

My perfect island as a girl was the attic under the sloping roof, unless it was summer steamy hot, or winter frosty cold. Then my nest was on my bed, or flopped on the davenport, across a chair, anywhere . . . .

My books were not like Quindlen’s list of “10 Books for a Girl Who Is Full of Beans.” I didn’t read her noble suggestions like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Madeline, or even A Wrinkle in Time as a young girl, but I did become addicted to the Cherry Ames series, books in the mold of Nancy Drew: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Army Nurse, Flight Nurse. If you have read them, you may know Cherry, short for “Charity,” is the heroine in a series of 27 mystery novels with hospital settings between 1943 and 1968.

I slurped up Lucy Winchester by Mennonite author Christmas Carol Kauffman, the story of Lucy’s spiritual quest to find peace “set against the backdrop of two difficult marriages and many sorrows, broken promises, sickness, infant deaths, alcoholism, and poverty.”


In a trip up to the attic again as an adult, my sisters and I rummaged through the stash of antique books (they’re over 50!) and divvied them up among ourselves.

Yes, I read books, books, lots of them, but these are what remain from girlhood days:


The book whose spine is taped up is entitled Bird Life in Wington (1948) a book of parables by Rev. J. Calvin Reid, pastor of  Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh,

Willie the Wolf in roadster tries to seduce Gertie Goose
Willie the Wolf with fangs in roadster ready to pounce on naive Gertie Goose

who invented the First Birderian Church of Wington to deliver sermonettes to parishioners named Professor Magpie, Baldy Eagle, Mr. Heron, a fisherman–you get the idea.

More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)
More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)

The images in this Valentine story are imprinted on my mind with cookie cutter precision, the secret to the surprise valentines that replace the snow-damaged paper cards by the window. This reader also contained the story of the “The Woman Who Used Her Head” by chopping a hole in her roof to accommodate the lofty altitude of her Christmas tree. 

I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One
I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One

Finally, a “real” literature book with Hawthorne’s The Great Stone Face, Emerson’s poem The Snowstorm, announced by “all the trumpets of the sky,” Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Joan of Arc, the heroic maid who saved France from conquest. A vision, voices, an ancient prophecy–what could be more romantic for a plain Mennonite girl who dreamed of castles, and princes, and fulfillment, oh my!

Did this post jog your memory of textbooks, gift books, library books from your own past?

Please tell us about them.

Another invitation to vote for my story in The Gutsy Story Contest:

To Vote: http://soniamarsh.com/2014/01/vote-for-your-favorite-december-2013-my-gutsy-story.html


To Read the Story:  http://soniamarsh.com/2013/12/rising-above-the-pettiness-to-focus-on-the-positive-by-marian-beaman.html

Huge Thanks to those who have already voted!


29 thoughts on “Up in the Garret

  1. My first library memory was the old library in my hometown that was a converted old jailhouse. It had so much personality. I grieved when they moved to a “modern” building.


  2. Marian – I love this sentence: “The images in this Valentine story are imprinted on my mind with cookie cutter precision…”

    I loved reading Nancy Drew mysteries and the Cherry Ames books as well — our “set” reddish cloth covers. And I adored Grace Livingston Hill!

    Thank you for stirring wonderful memories!


  3. Ha! I was about to quote that cookie cutter phrase back to you when I saw that Laurie had already done so. I loved Nancy Drew and, less so, Grace Livingston Hill.

    I have a few of the old books left from our family library also. Bunnie Brown and His Sister Sue and Lassie are my treasures.

    Thanks for that EBB poem. I didn’t know it. Thought you wrote it. 🙂


  4. Well, my memories have been stirred, too. I remember many of the titles you mentioned, especially the Mennonite authors. I read Grace Livingston Hill until I got tired of the repeated formulaic plot. More recently I have read and enjoyed books about reading, about sharing the reading experience and about reading books on a set schedule.
    We seem to be inundated with book lists at the end of each year. I am overwhelmed with the inviting array of titles and authors from around the world–“so many books, so little time” (sorry about the cliché). Anna Quindlen’s book will be near the top of my list for 2014.


    1. Anna Quindlen is so accessible and this slender volume has lists of books that may be new to you, and some you can already check off the list. I was sorry when she stopped writing op-ed pieces for Newsweek. Thanks for the comment!


  5. Bird Life in Wington, Lucy Winchester and Blue Willow were also part of my childhood island-book times.

    I am still in love with books, and so is my husband. Our small house overflows with books.


    1. Yes, I guess we could send each other images of stacks besides on the bed, on the sofa, on shelves . . . ! It’s a wonderful life, the reading/writing life, so says Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird).


  6. Oh Marian, a delightful topic. Is it my age that gets me waxing nostalgic or have I always loved talking about books? I can’t remember. :). Anyway, I too devoured the Cherry Ames series, and Nancy Drew. One summer I recall reading Justin Morgan Had A Horse — 15 times. I loved my local East Orange Public Library (we’re FB Friends today). And I recall discovering a biography of Aimee Semple McPherson among the shelves. A famous evangelist of her day, I recall no more than that I loved that she seemed to lead a life as far away from tradition as I could find. I was fascinated.
    Thanks, once again, for the memories. .


  7. I am in a similar quandary, but I guess it doesn’t matter what evokes the memories. Also, I like your phrase “I recall no more than that I loved that she seemed to lead a life as far away from tradition as I could find.” Books helped me “jump the fence” of my sheltered Mennonite life back then. It seems you wanted to kick the traces of a circumscribed life as well. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Janet.


  8. I so love the illustrations in some of the older fiction books. You would think with our technology we would have done this with fiction…but alas, we have the big screens.


  9. Oh, I had forgotten about how I read Bird Life in Wington and enjoyed the author’s parables. Thank you for the reminder, Marian. The book was one of the many books that inspired me to enjoy the variety of the English language. (Great picture, Cliff)


  10. I read Bird Life in Wington too…I have some of my Mom’s old books, books she shared with me so I could love them too! I’ve shared them with Little Guy, but he didn’t appreciate them the same way! lol


    1. Thank you for taking a peek–and commenting. It’s always great to see your face in the Comments column. The photographs on your blog continue to be impressive. Keep them coming!


  11. Letters and Words

    Letters twist and stumble and walk
    Then finally run as they jump
    Upon the train of Words and Phrases
    That rumble through the Town of Imagination
    So real you can smell the sweet aroma
    Of exotic tea, carefully sipping the hot elixir,
    Savoring a crunchy biscotti and addictively
    Turning the page that takes your train
    To other towns and villages and worlds.

    Cliff Beaman
    Spokane, WA
    January 10, 2014


  12. Marian, charming post filled with memories and the joy of reading! Loved seeing the images you shared and as always, your sketch. And I found out that you are not the only writer in the family. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Sherrey, for visiting me “in the attic”! I know you like charming books and the writing life. You have been on my mind and in my prayers much lately. I hope Bob is doing better these days. Our prayers continue.


  13. loved this blog -brought back memories – I loved Cherry Ames and what about the Bobbsey Twins?? We had the original books dated from the late 1800’s setting- have no idea what happened to them but I am guessing they would be valuable by now. then too there was the Danny Orlis series. Nice to know that others share my book memories !! I always felt sorry for people who were discouraged from reading.


    1. I haven’t thought about the Danny Orlis series until you mentioned it just now. Yes, and the Bobbsey Twins too. Now one of my grandsons has a Kindle Fire for reading books. Do you suppose youngsters can upload such oldies but goodies!

      Thanks for stopping by today, Shirley. I post twice a week, often nostalgic writings like this one. Do visit my blog again soon!


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