(NOTE: This column originally appeared online last week and was then accidentally dropped from the blog; the print version appeared today, May 29, 2011.)
“Book,” Missy insisted, pushing the bright-covered volume across the table.
I smiled. “Tell you what. Finish up your dinner and then we’ll go read.”
She nodded, smiled , took another few bites. And then, it was time for the evening’s trip to Narnia.
I couldn’t ask for better company.
Missy’s a new member of the crew. Or, rather, I’m a new member of Missy’s crew. She’s the disabled aunt of my wife Heather and is right about my age, though much of the time she seems far younger.
Heather and I moved in to become her guardians a little while ago, “parents” of a sort to this charming woman with the brilliant smile. Missy doesn’t have a lot in the way of words but she’s understood what it’s meant to have us this close and seems to be enjoying it.
Especially when it comes time to read.
I found out later that Missy’s dad used to read to her every night, from The Boxcar Children. Mine had a similar habit, picking up almost anything from JRR Tolkien to Farley Mowat. So when I plucked a book out of a half-unloaded moving box and began our own rite of storytelling, I shouldn’t have been surprised that we both got sucked in so fast.
What did surprise me was how much of Missy I began to see.
There’s a world that lives behind Missy’s eyes. Most of us don’t catch more than glimpses of it, amplified occasionally by her love of high-decibel country music or some passing instance that draws a comment. For someone with so open a heart, her thoughts are often a deep mystery.
But not when we read together.
During those times, I know I have her attention. And that she’s following everything I say.
I recognize the shudders in her when the White Witch is threatening Edmund.
Or the broad laughs when the Gilbreth family of “Cheaper By The Dozen” is learning yet one more unlikely lesson.
It became most obvious of all, I guess, during a night’s reading of “The Hobbit.” As I read of goblins grabbing Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf friends, this silent young lady suddenly looked at me and asked with deep concern, as clear as a bell, “Where’s Gandalf?”
I was so surprised I could have dropped the book.
It’s become our meeting place, our bridge between fantasy and reality where the two of us can lean on the railing and watch the landscape together. Engaged, curious, ready for what might happen next.
And every moment, becoming just a little more family than the moment before.
I’ve never been a Dad. I doubt I ever will be. That’s OK.
But with Missy, I’ve got a title that’s almost as good.
I’m the Bookman.
“Book?” she asks, our copy of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in one hand.
You bet, Missy. Any time.