A Gift of Words

by Mary O. Fumento
December 2010

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” -  Garrison Keillor

Christmas brings the shivering hustle of shopping, giving and receiving. The festive season delivers the wonder, the hope, and the bliss of things so anticipated.  For me, it is a time to fondly remember my childhood Christmas dreams.

Our busy family house was one strung with vivid imagination and wild activity, and Christmas lights that never came down so my dad would not have to hang them.  My mother would give us the Sears Christmas catalog by appointment only so we could make our list, check it multiple times, and change it as many times as we liked.  Oh, we imagined so big. We chose things we never could have had; deep down, we knew it all along.

Christmas day was a barrage of laughing, taking photos when someone else was bending over and the inevitable and irrepressible balled-up, thrown wrapping paper war.  I have many photos capturing the fun, the festivity and the goodwill.

As we snuck away to our own private corners to appreciate our prizes (none, I am sure from Sears), a quiet appreciation overtook the noisy scene like a satisfied fog.

My favorite gifts were books (of course) of every kind.  How my parents afforded anything for us, I will never know (eleven children).  But the treasures were there, every year, no matter how small.

I revisit these memories out of gratitude for today where I have access to and appreciation of hundreds of thousands of books, thanks to public libraries.

It was almost swept away, my favorite Christmas dream of books.

In 1992, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, damaging a good part of my speech center and interfering with my ability to remember or concentrate.  Over the next three years, I struggled to regain my reading skills and others I had lost. 

Over those three years and many more, there are books, stories and characters I have entrusted to keep me moving forward as a person who believes that life is lovely and that we earn each day. 

Here are some of the authors I will never forget, and I will always carry their gift with me.  If I would buy a book for you, it would be one of these. Warning: I tend to read non-fiction and poetry, and I stray towards narratives of people overcoming unbelievable odds.

Life itself is, indeed, an unbelievable odd.

  • When words are too difficult, there is always art to convey what we need to hear. Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II are twoPulitzer Prize winning books, a combination of biography and memoir, recalling the travesties of World War II through pictures and handwritten captions.  Comic-book style, Spiegelman’s books shout with emotion and whisper about human courage and frailty. The Maus books are based on Art’s father’s survival in a time and place that kindness forgot, but where human spirit overcame anyway.
  • Brilliant Irish author Alice Taylor will warm your heart and soul with her poetry and personal tales of a rural upbringing in a land now lost to time.  She has so many gems to share: To School through the Fields; Going to the Well; Country Days; and Quench the Lamp.  An experienced storyteller, Alice hits the spot every time. Wyoming never had so much in common with Ireland as Alice.
  • Da Chen’s Color of the Mountain is a personal testament to growing up in China as a grandson of a landlord during the Industrial Revolution when persons of any title (and their families) were subject to incredible persecution.  Da will amaze you with the mischief and the glory he found on his way to adulthood.
  • Author and poet Gregory Orr penned one of the most amazing stories in The Blessing.  All true and so beautifully courageous, Gregory recounts the accidental shooting of his brother in a hunting accident and how that one lasting act profoundly changed his life.
  • The wonderful poet, Mary Oliver, should never be missed.  This writer will be one of the best of our lifetime.
  • One last suggestion is poet Lucia Perillo, the person who has most challenged me to read modern poetry (and I am a poet, for heaven’s sake).   If I could understand Lucia, I knew I would know poetry. Try I Heard the Vultures Singing, the story of her triumph over multiple sclerosis, for no one wins over that dreaded disease.  But Lucia can tell, and she does.  

Words are always there, even when simply implied.  But when we hear them with our hearts, they become magical, life-changing entities that we remember forever.

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