I was thinking in bed this morning about 3 women who have influenced my reading life.  They were pivotal to my character formation.  Reading has given me the courage, and interest, to move from country to country, to become the expat princess that I am. 


Herewith is an homage to the women who stoked my interest:


1)      My mother.  She never read me bedtime stories – that was my father’s job.  But it was she who ordered Bread and Jam for Frances from the library for my 6th birthday.  This was in the days before Barnes and Noble.  Where we lived in Podunk, California, the book pickings were slim when I was a child.  We mainly read books from the library.  One could say that books, especially cookbooks in later life, are her passion.  My mother read in the afternoon on her bed (an act of self-preservation) and every night before bed.  She reads book reviews hungrily and continues to pass on her favorites.  My mother introduced me to Joan Didion, Richard Russo, John Irving, and Anne-Marie MacDonald, to name just a few. I am a disappointment to her in the cookbook department but I do own Mark Bittman and Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks.  Of late, my mother has been trying to read the bible in one year.  She has already skipped to the end.


2)      My grandmother, Marie, or Grandmarie to my sisters, cousins, and me.  A retired librarian for Los Angeles County, California, she gave me a book or two every year for Christmas and my birthday.   She always picked the right book, appropriate for my age and interest.  She was never, ever off the mark.  Every year for his birthday my father received a subscription to National Geographic, which I then pilfered occasionally if there was nothing else to read.   Grandmarie introduced me to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, L. M. Montgomery, and the author of Maud Hart Lovelace.   Grandmarie had a stack of books by her bed – she loved murder mysteries – and always finished a book.   She never skipped to the end. 


3)      Mary Estelle McDowell, or Mrs. McDowell to me.  She had the world’s most beautiful blue eyes.  She also had a terrible limp from what I believe to be a congenital birth defect.  I never asked.  Mrs. McDowell lived at the very end of our street, where the street meets the forest.  For many years she let my father cut our Christmas tree off of her property; when that got to be too much work, we went to the nursery like common folk.  When I was very little we went to her house on Christmas Eve for eggnog and an incredible feast of cookies and fudge.  She had no children.  I was rude enough to ask why.


Besides Christmas cookies, Mrs. McDowell had other draws for me.   Almond Roca and books.  If she had time, Mrs. McDowell would invite you in for an Almond Roca and a story.  If she didn’t have time for you, she’d still give you an Almond Roca.  (It is my favorite candy to this day).  This woman would take time out of her day to sit down and read to me.  My favorites were from her childhood collection.  Some of them we read twice.  My all-time favorite was The Live Doll’s Busy Days, where the dolls come alive and do all the housework.  Pre-Bewitched, this book was written in 1907 by Josephine Scribner Gates.  I believe she also wrote one of my other favorites, Little Miss Independence, written about a little girl in the aftermath of the Civil War.   I have just ordered the Live-Doll’s Busy Days as a Christmas present to myself.  I found a used copy but have been unable to locate the other book at all.  I thank Barnes and Noble for this wonderful service, the used and out-of-print section. 


Sadly, the above scenario would probably not happen today.  A candy doling older woman reading to a child.  I am not sure as a parent I could let my children make that walk.  There really are perverts in the forest enticing kids with candy.  Hansel and Gretel is a time-tested tale after all.  But much more than that, who today takes time to read to a child who is not their own?  Don’t people have a million other things to do with their time?  I think you know my answer. 




Filed under Reading

8 responses to “Reading

  1. Margaret

    CONGRATS, EX-PAT! You are off to a great start! Great list. It doesn’t apply to me though – I believe that by the time I came around, you were my only reader. Sadly and regretably, I know that I ever only went to visit Ms. McDowell for the Almond Rocca, and at Christmas, fudge. But I did love her, and you are right about her eyes – there was definitely a twinkle.

  2. Princess

    Thnnks for being the first commenter – and a nice one at that! Happy 15!!!!

  3. Meredith

    Dear EX PAT Princess–Superb blog!
    Am looking forward to adding it to the repetoire. I too love to read, but these days I read primarily children’s books or my 2 (Radish and Leezer) now 3 favorite blogs. That is all time allows. Like Margaret, I only ever went for the candy, but Mrs. McDowell still holds a dear spot in my heart. Margaret was my reader. Nice to know siblings will give their little brothers and sisters such a wonderful gift. And I thoroughly enjoy being in a book group with our Mother. Quite insightful.
    EXP–keep it up! You are a tremendous writer.

  4. Poppins/Expatprincess!

    I love the blog!!! I am your number (one, two, three, four – how many sisters do you have?) fan! And your sister Margaret introduced me to Richard Russo, who remains my all time favorite author after John Irving.

  5. First, I am very flattered that daughter thought I was influential in her reading. I do not remember being quite so. I am pleased I was included on the list. I did buy her books, including those stupid books we ordered at school.

    I am very happy that my daughter is writing this blog, which I do not know if it is public or not.

  6. Mary Katherine is a terrific writer, and I am pleased that she is experimenting with this blog form. She is very orderly and you will have no problems with her punctuation. Much of the time she writes about matters of substance, which I admire.

  7. How can I write longer comments like Leezer.

  8. This post was stolen by a prolific plagiarist, and I wanted to let you know. I wrote about it on a plagiarism post (because she stole from ME, too) but I found your work in her “writings” and wanted to alert you.

    You can go to my page and see the fuss (I am leaving to BlogHer convention today and have zero time. Ack!)

    Loralee Choate

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