A recent challenge making the rounds on Facebook has been to name a book that has had a lifetime influence. Like many writers, I could have gone the obvious route and made an honest case for Little Women, picturing myself as Jo, but I’m not going there. Instead, I’m choosing Heidi.
Books were as much a part of my growing up as cornbread – and I grew up in North Mississippi. They came from the limited school library or the bookmobile or were traded about among friends. I don’t recall owning one of my own until my tenth birthday. With a span of only three and a half years among the first three McGee girls, bought books were community property.
On that birthday, Aunt Ruth gave me Heidi for a present. How I loved that book with its curmudgeon grandfather, Swiss scenery, and miracle cure! Another whole layer came from the feeling that this book belonged to me. I might lend it to a friend or share it with a sister, but it came back to me to be read again. And again. And again.
Little did I dream growing up in that rural community that I would someday visit Switzerland more than once or that I would have a grandson who was born there. Nor did I know that Heidi’s influence would be so strong that I would catch myself in the Alps, as an adult who should have known better, keeping a sharp eye out for grandfather’s hut or his mountain goats.
The lifetime influence? Perhaps this joy of ownership is why there’s hardly a room in my house without overstocked bookshelves (with my name in them, often signed by the author) and for sure why none of my ten grandchildren have finished their first year in the family without books of their very own – also frequently signed by the author.