By Carolyn Pons
Once there were two little girls, one perhaps seven-years-old and the other a toddler. The older girl had saved 25 pennies, and she decided to spend them selfishly on toys for herself. Since it was a cold day, she put her blue coat and hat over her long pigtails, stuck her hands into a white furry muff, and set out for Mr. Twiddle’s notion shop. The nice man at the store put her little toys into a brown paper horn, but as the little girl ran back home, all of her new toys fell out onto the ground.
Geraldine Belinda was the older girl’s name, and Geraldine lived in a book in the toddler girl’s house in New Orleans. From the first time the book was read to her, the little New Orleans girl loved hearing about Geraldine Belinda, whose name was the book’s title. The smaller girl probably asked to hear the story a million times. She remembered the complete name of the girl in the book, Geraldine Belinda Marybel Scott, until she grew up and long beyond that. That little toddler girl was me.
Thanks to Google, I now know that Marguerite Henry authored Geraldine Belinda and Gladys Rourke Blackwood drew illustrations (called pictures) for the book. The tome was published by Platt & Munk in New York in 1942, the year I was born. I could now purchase an old copy of the book, the price increasing as the book’s condition improves. I’d rather just remember that sweet first book of my life.
From Geraldine Belinda, I went on to read many other books during my childhood and continue to read eagerly and enthusiastically now. Most of the books I read during elementary years came from Annunciation Grammar School Library during the school term. I assisted our school librarian, my seventh-grade teacher Sr. Francis, M.H.S., during recess and after school. One day Sister gifted me with a worn-out copy of Little Women. I treasured that flimsy book a long time.
In the summer, New Orleans Public Library sent its bookmobile out with a wide variety of reading from which the children of New Orleans could choose. I don’t think I ever missed the Bookmobile when it stopped at Gayarre Elementary School on Almonaster Avenue and North Robertson Street, the school that my daddy had attended. The bookmobile arrived every second Wednesday morning during our school summer vacation, and I brought home as many books as I could carry.
Draping my legs across the arm of our living room horsehair chair, while my head rested on the other arm, I read. An open window provided breeze in hot Louisiana summer, and since the living room was virtually unused by our family, I was left alone to slip into the world of people, animals, places, and adventures. Mostly, I traveled back in time with the subject of a biography, like Mary Todd Lincoln or Clara Barton.
During high school and college, there was not much time for pleasure reading. Reading for knowledge became more important. But always, when I could steal the time, I loved reading stories of lives lived in another time. Historical fiction became my favorite genre.
Married and a mother, I joined a Book Club in New Orleans. We read a book each month and discussed the book at our monthly meeting. Each member got a turn to choose the next book for members to read. Mostly the books were best-seller non-fiction, and many times about women’s issues. This was during the 1960s, the Women’s Lib era. No matter how busy I was, I managed to finish the assigned book.
After I moved to Lafayette in 1974, a new acquaintance named Judy Poteet invited me into another Book Club similar to the one in New Orleans. I vividly remember attending a meeting at Camille Copeland’s house on Duclos Street. Camille was the perfect picture of an earth Mother, sitting in a rocking chair breastfeeding her twin boys.
Then life and a full-time job happened for me, and my reading time was once again limited, although there was always a book on the table or in the basket beside my recliner. Irving Stone was my favorite author, and I read his works on many famous historical figures. St. Luke, Mary Todd Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, and Camille Pissarro are but a few. A period of reading preceded my regular Saturday afternoon naps.
Now retired, I can read whenever I choose. Initially, I didn’t spend too much time during the day reading but rather left it for evenings. I soon learned that doing that limited my reading, as the reading induced early sleep.
Now I try to fit some reading time into my afternoons. After lunch, I attempt to accomplish something that I loosely call work, whether house chores, record-keeping, writing, or some other. When I have completed some worthy endeavor, even a small one, I allow myself to sit and pick up whatever book I am currently reading, usually one on my Kindle. Soon, any worries I may have had disappear, and I feel lighter of heart and happy.
I learn so much through my preferred fiction reading, about history and geography, about cultures and ethnicities, about problem-solving and socializing. My mind and heart open to what a lovely world this is and what wonderful people inhabit it.
And it all began with Geraldine Belinda Marybel Scott.