Believing Begins with Books

Dance of the Books, Panel 4, by Helena Clare Pittman, Grahamville Library, Grahamville, NY. www.helenaclarepittman.com

Long ago in the war-plagued world of 1944, my family moved up and down the East coast according to my Dad’s assignments as a Navy Supply Officer for troops over seas. Ripped from my classroom in my hometown, I fumbled my way through the year; annoyed each new teacher who had to acclimate the new student, endured exile from the kids on the block, and teetered on the brink of academic failure in first grade.

At bedtime, however, real life receded and the world of stories took center stage. Mom sat at the end of the couch with the lamp usually to her right and me snuggled tight against her left side. She believed in the power of stories and paraded the classics past my imagination with a consistency that I came to love and rely upon. Just as these beloved characters slide from their pages in the mural, they burst onto the stage of my imagination, an infusion of mischief and mayhem, festooned with promises of life beyond the every day. If I sailed once out of the window on the heels of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the boys while Mom read, I replayed that moment dozens of times in bed after lights out. My Neverland bustled with elf-like folks and domesticated woodland creatures, a makeover of the forest dwelling of Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

When we lived in Boston—one location along our costal path—Mom read Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings and took me to the commons to ride the Swan boats where I indulged dreams of hiding out until time came to return to my hometown. These moments of flight and freedom carved a parallel universe into my imagination, a Technicolor world where friendship, and the possibility of magic saturated the land, the water, the animals, and me.

Soon after VE Day, Dad was discharged from the Navy. Affronts and abuses forgotten, I returned home with my energetic imagination in tow—and vowed I’d never travel anywhere again without it.

Seventy years later, my Neverland facsimiles reappear when these book characters reenter my life and revive not just memories of story adventures, but also threads that send me on a mental sojourn rearranging meanings of past experience, real and imagined, into new constellations—surprising configurations that often yield new perspectives on life past, present, and future. How cool is that?