This Thanksgiving I'm feeling grateful for my very first book

My library grows by the year, but it all started with Gumby.

Danny Heitman

The biggest of harvests can start with the smallest of seeds, as I’ve been reminded this Thanksgiving, a holiday that celebrates the plentitude of the fields, the roofs over our heads, the hundreds of other blessings that can touch any single life.

Readers reap a special kind of harvest: the gleaning of ideas from the dozens of books that line their shelves, waiting for some sympathetic eye to scan what’s inside, prompting an idea to sprout.

My own personal library numbers several hundred books, but it started, as all libraries must, from a single volume. I’m counting that first book as a blessing beyond many others this Thanksgiving, since it nudged me into the life of reading that’s immeasurably enriched who I am, what I think, how I dream.

I was born into a household of books, but as the youngest of six children, I cut my reading teeth on shared volumes from the household shelf or books borrowed from the nearby library.

One day when I was five, however, I accompanied my mother to the grocery store where, in the course of stocking up on milk, bread, and beans, she allowed me to pick out a book of my own from a small sales rack. It was “Gumby and Gumby’s Pal Pokey,” a title from the Tell-A-Tale series that featured small, cheap volumes just the right size for little hands.

About Gumby, you already know. He was the clay animation character, shaped like a stick of gum, who set about solving the world’s problems with his sidekick, a horse named Pokey. My Gumby book, written by Betty Biesterveld and illustrated by George De Santis, was one of many titles in the Tell-A-Tale line that capitalized on children’s TV characters.

The story, about a man who loses his key to the local candy factory and asks Gumby to help find it, doesn’t occupy the pantheon of classic children’s literature. But in an odd way, the middling quality of that first book of my own might have been just what I needed. Even then, I was feeling the first stirrings of desire to become a writer, too – a vocation I’d eventually embrace . If I had come to possess a truly singular book as my first title – say, something from E.B. White or Dr. Seuss – I might have been too intimidated by its stature to think of writing myself. But “Gumby and Gumby’s Pal Pokey” seemed like something a human being at ground level, in the world where I lived, might actually make.

I found a No. 2 pencil and, with the best penmanship I could muster, wrote my name, age, and hometown on the title page, just so everyone would know that this book belonged to me.

I’ve fetched it just now from a bookcase that includes Marcel Proust and John Updike, Eudora Welty and Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck and V.S. Pritchett. My library grows by the year, but it all started with Gumby.

I feel so grateful, on this Thanksgiving as in all others, that such reading treasures are mine.     

Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”  

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to This Thanksgiving I'm feeling grateful for my very first book
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2017/1122/This-Thanksgiving-I-m-feeling-grateful-for-my-very-first-book
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe