Summer is the season of permission. Permission to stay up late, to eat ice cream, to marvel at the chirp of birds and crickets, the flicker of fireflies. And permission to read . . . for the pure unadulterated joy it brings.
I come by my love of reading honestly, from a man who never graduated the equivalent of high school but who read incessantly. A man whose educational status meant that he worked with his hands but who also used those hands to play classical and jazz piano. A man who wanted more for his daughter and who introduced her to one of the most magical places a child can ever discover: the library.
My dad took me to the Oak Park Public Library to get my first library card when I was barely 6. And then we would go — just him and me — each Monday night. I would pick out books; he would read to me. I remember a lot about those Monday nights. I remember sitting in a pea green leather circular sofa (it was circa 1970 and I’m betting pea green was the Pantone color that year; that or harvest gold.) And I remember “Yellow Eyes.”
It was a paperback, which meant it was a “big person’s book,” as opposed to the simpler books I could read by myself. The cover was a cobalt blue with a bright yellow pencil drawing of the mountain lion for which the book was named. And Dad read it to me and I fell in love: with the spirit of my father, with the story telling the plight of an animal in the wilderness and, ultimately, with reading.
Those three images: my dad, that book and how that book turned me into a lifelong reader have always been intertwined in my vault of memories. But as I was growing up I never communicated to my dad what those trips to the library meant, what he had given me.
But by the early 2000s, I was a mother myself; I thought a lot about how parents make memories for their children. I thought about how reading every night to my sons was a sacred ritual. And I thought about “Yellow Eyes.”
By that time, the Internet was beginning to be a thing and there were all these sites where you could buy seemingly random items, including out-of-print books. I don’t remember if it was eBay or another site but I went online and found a used copy of “Yellow Eyes.” And I knew in that instant that I had found the perfect Christmas present for my dad.
The somewhat tattered paperback arrived in brown paper wrapping, a little worse for wear but exactly as I remembered it. It felt magical to hold in my hands, to caress, as if I could reach back in time and touch my childhood.
My parents came to visit us for Christmas that year and my excitement thinking about the look on my dad’s face when he opened this present was impossible to contain. I told him I had a special present for him, that I wanted him to open last. After a morning of opening endless boxes of robots, dinosaurs and trains, of having wrapping paper, boxes and bows strewn across the living room, I seized a quiet moment and put the precious present in my dad’s hands.
He tore open the wrapping, looked down at the book and then looked into my eyes — with a completely blank expression.
“It’s the book you read to me at the Oak Park Public Library when I was 6; I ordered it off the Internet because I thought it would mean so much for you to see it again,” I yammered on, filling the silence.
He looked at me again, shook his head, smiled, got up to hug me. And it was absolutely clear that he had no recollection of “Yellow Eyes” at all.
And it mattered not a lick. What mattered was that he took me to the library and read to me on luxuriously warm summer evenings. It was one of a million tiny tasks parents take on, often wondering if any of it matters but doing it still.
Throughout our adult lives my dad and I would trade books. He loved that I gave him “Seabiscuit”; that was a book that he would remember.
I have the latest Michael Robotham on my list of decadent summer reads. I will read it with the leisurely pace that summer invites, on the back porch, with a glass of wine, breathing in deeply the heavy air of the evening.
And I will think of my dad and of “Yellow Eyes” and of the lifetime of joy he gave to his daughter because he cared enough to read to me.