I have thought long and hard about how to describe myself.
I could do it in a brief description: 50 year old mother of two, English major, avid reader, a parent of two dogs and one overweight neurotic cat who think murderers reside in the backyard.
Or I thought I could do the History of PB by describing the cultural and literary aspects of of my life.
Your choice – you can settle with the above or you can read more below. Please keep in mind that some of the information comes from family lore and it is long.
My father is the child of a not-so-nice man and my grandmother who wrote for the Deseret Newspaper in Salt Lake City. She was a writer of children’s books specializing in non-fiction but having a few really good novels in there as well (Wind Before the Dawn, Petticoats West, and Born to Teach). She also won a special Edgar in 1959 for her American Murder Ballads. My mother is raised by her uncle, an educator with a large library.
I was born in Salt Lake on February 29th and as my parents have no name previously picked out, they settle on Patricia because Pat Nixon was on the cover of Life or Time or some such magazine and my father saw the cover while he was waiting. The reason I am born on the 29th is that my mother stayed up till three in the morning playing bridge with three drunks (she was sober) and eating vast quantities of fudge.
We live in Goleta, California and my father works as a technical librarian. We have a large house with one room as the library and lots of books on the shelves. This is the room where we sit and my mother reads to us: AA Milne, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew; Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Stuart Little, and many more.
My mother goes to UCSB to get her master’s in English. I supposedly can discuss Romeo and Juliet at the age of five when my parents talk about the play at dinner. All the other moms in the neighborhood send their kids to play at our house because, after all, my mother is just sitting around and reading.
I start school and the kindergarten teacher asks my mom what she is suppose to do with me because I am already reading. In second grade, Mr. Liberman has me doing 3rd and 4th grade language arts.
We move to Santa Barbara and my brother and I go to Fredrick Forest Peabody Elementary School. I love the librarian because, when I met her, she bent down and asked what I like to read. When I told her The Children of Green Knowe, she introduced me to E. Nesbit and Edward Eager and a whole host of other authors. I am in seventh heaven. My mother also takes me to the library downtown and I love the feel of the place – the sweeping staircase and all those books.
We have a Siamese cat named Peter W. Whiffle from a Carl Van Vechten novel. My mother is the only person I know who has read Carl Van Vechten.
In 3rd grade I work in the 5th grade workbook. My spelling is atrocious and I have inherited bad handwriting. The teacher tells my mother how “Patty likes to mother all the other children.” In 4th grade, my parents move me to Marymount Catholic School because my 4th grade teacher has spent three days teaching us our ABCs backwards and having us scribble to get our hands used to the pencil.
We acquire two cats who we name Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress. We have two dogs as well who like to sit wrapped around the toilet in the bathroom. When you least expect it, they will kiss your ankles. This doesn’t go over well with the ladies who come to play bridge.
At Marymount, there are 18 girls in my class, four are named Patricia. We have Mrs. Roberts for our main teacher and some of the sisters for special classes. I am terrified of Sister Anne. In 5th grade I go back to Peabody and have the best teacher I have ever had, Mrs. Kunze. When I start writing plays, Mrs. Kunze has me read The Taming of the Shrew. One month into 6th grade we move to Bakersfield. Before we left, Mrs. Anderson (principal of FF Peabody) comes up to me on the playground and tells me how much she admires my mother. I am surrounded by my friends and want to die.
In 6th grade I have Miss Stamm who loves to read to us while we do our work. She has a great reading voice. My spelling and handwriting are still atrocious. I read Tale of Two Cities for the first time.
1970 – 1980
In middle school I reread Tale of Two Cities and then discover we study the novel in 8th grade. I have Fern Green for Honors English. I convince her that I am reading the dictionary for a book report and I get an A on the assignment. My class votes that I have to see a different showing of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet so I don’t embarrass anyone with my sobbing. I also bet my friends that I can read 30 books in 30 days. I complete my task in 27 days.
As a freshman in high school, I am assigned Tale of Two Cities one more time – I protest but I don’t remember it doing any good. I also do a report on Kidnapped starting by saying it was the most boring book I have ever read. That didn’t go over well either.
We get a third dog who we name Abraham Simon Woolf Rosenbach after the book collector. His biography sits on the dining room bookshelves and I can see the spine of the book while I eat dinner.
We move to Sacramento and I go to an Alternative School. Once again, I am in heaven because we can choose our own course of study. I get to read all kinds of literature including Russian and Japanese. I do not read Tale of Two Cities. My father makes me take math and science in the regular school and I cheat my way through biology. When we have to count little cells seen through the microscope, I just start clicking the counter along with everyone else and for our tree unit I asked if we could go anywhere to gather leaves and identify them and the teacher said yes. I went to Capital Park where the trees were nicely labeled. I am introduced to Tolkien.
Two years of community college and I discover Margaret Atwood (Surfacing) and poets such as Sylvia Plath and Adrianne Rich. My parents divorce and I breath a giant sigh of relief.
Off to Berkeley where they give you a degree for reading everything you would have read anyway. Lots of English lit because, as it is often pointed out, if you want American Lit you can just move down to that school in the south (UCLA). My professor of Romantic Literature has a deep southern accent and he reads Keat’s Eve of Saint Agnes out loud then slams his cane on the desk stating to the young men in class, “If that doesn’t make your blood boil, you are not men.”
Work in San Francisco, taking lunch breaks in the bookstores, marriage to an Engineer who builds me bookshelves and understands the pile of books by the bedside. He doesn’t get the rereading part (the only book he has ever reread is Catch-22) and I forgive him for liking Asimov’s Foundation Series. We eventually move to Albuquerque and start our family.
My mother has a new person by the name of Caraway, a voracious reader, collector, and the person you want with you in the Cash Cab. He becomes my dad and my sons’ GO (for Grand Other).
I have bouts of postpartum depression and read lots of mysteries. I take my boys to the library and read them AA Milne and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Their dad builds them bookcases. I make a friend named Linda and we know we are kindred spirits because we understand the literary references to the names of our cats. Her cat is named Blanche (because she depends on the kindness of strangers) and mine is named Mad Dog (Mad dogs and Englishmen in the noon day sun).
We move to Spokane and eldest starts kindergarten and I start volunteering in the schools. In first grade the teacher has me read the last chapters of Charlotte’s Web out loud to the children and my son’s eyes beg me not to cry in front of his friends. I barely manage to do it. I continue working in the classroom and love to help with reading and writing. I start a book group with some friends. My husband doesn’t mind when I get more shelves and rearrange all the books. I find I love novels written by poets and I discover Katherine Norris. I read lots of biographies, memoirs, and letters.
Life continues, boys grow up. Our small town starts a community library and I am in charge of collections. Somehow I have to explain to the little old ladies exactly what Anne Rice’s Beauty Series is about without offending them. My eldest son loves fantasy and science fiction. He devours the Harry Dresden files. Youngest is an avid re-reader. Last summer was the first summer he didn’t re-read the Harry Potter Series. He loves books about running and, like his dad, tends to read more non-fiction than fiction. After 13 plus years of serving on various boards I step down and start really reading again. My first book group is going strong and I now belong to another one as well. I love to discuss books with my mother and my friends. I only have one pet with a literary name – our youngest dog is named Mary Evans AKA George Eliot and we call her Elly.