To all intents and purposes I never belonged where I began. Not as a full-time adult, I mean. I learned more than I can remember about too many things to count while growing up. I’ve used that learning numerous times as well. I enjoyed the wave-like movement of all that education and wish that I could recall it all clearly.
But, I never really fit that mold. I was the one who loved classical music and opera. Somehow, I was the one who introduced me to it. I was the one who taught myself about ballet and other dance forms and watched it whenever I could. I also read Shakespeare and Tennyson in upper elementary and middle school when others my age were devouring Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I never heard of those books until I was an adult.
I didn’t see anything by C.S. Lewis until in my late 30’s. All I had was adult reading material, and I learned to suck it in like a vacuum.
My family listened to early Country music much of the time that I didn’t tolerate very well. None of them could tolerate my preferences either. We accommodated the differences.
We attended great auctions back then. They were better and cheaper than going to the Drive-In theatre. Dad didn’t have to spend more than a few bucks for a hot dog and drink for each of us, and we could spend an entire evening watching people go frantic with bidding paddles and someone else’s junk. Learning how the operation worked was an education in itself. I especially learned to watch the auctioneers.
We all loved going to them.
One dat, when I was in eighth grade, my dad went to an auction without the rest of us. He returned with many things, plus a box specifically for me.
Inside it were books. The box was filled with books. The pièce de résistance nearly floored me. Nestled among the novels by Faulkner and Updike and English books, to the side of those volumes on history, was a complete set of Shakespeare bound in moss green fabric and gilt lettering (pub. England, 1863), including his sonnets and other poetry.
I knew I’d died and ascended to Heaven without realizing it. That’s when I saw the tiny tomes. Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Thoreau, etc. (pub. NY 1909 approx.,) each bound in exquisite jacquard fabric, small enough to fit inside a pocket, huddled behind Shakespeare like so many children behind their mother’s apron.
That one act of consideration on Dad’s part sealed my fate. I was a classicist and would never truly fit into my birth family completely. I would always love them and honor them, but never be one of them. I’d been set free with that box of books and the knowledge that my father had unwittingly given me the ticket on the train to a literary career somewhere in my future.
Looking back on that moment, I can relax now. I understand that the family that I love doesn’t have to understand why I do what I do, or even how I do it. It’s enough to know that they acknowledge that that’s who I am and that they accept the fact that I can’t be anything else.