On Saturday nights, our family was happy.
During the week, Dad wasn’t ever around, my brother and I fought, and Mom made a sound effort (though not sound enough for her overly observant and analytical daughter) to hide her unhappiness. But on Saturdays, we pretended to be a happy family. And we pretended well.
There was a regular prescription: Victoria’s Station restaurant, which had children’s menus you could make into cardboard trains and spare ribs that washed down perfectly with Shirley Temples. Later, Love Boat and Fantasy Island, the latter sometimes so terrifying to me that I actually had to sleep in my brother’s room, on the floor (was I scared of Tattoo? I don’t remember).
But before Victoria’s Station, before the spare ribs, before Julie the Cruise Director and Ricardo Montalban, we went to the book store. We’d all go our separate ways: Mom to 18th century English literature, Dad to those huge hardcovers with the black covers and the red lettering that always seemed to feature men caught up in James Bond-like adventures (at least that’s what I assumed — I certainly never cracked one open myself), my brother to God knows where, and me to that blessed YA section.
I don’t think they even called it YA back then. I don’t know what they called it. But I do know that I loved all the books in there so much that I’d lie down on the carpet and start reading them right then and there in order to make the best selection. Obviously, the Judy Blume oeuvre was crucial in my world, but I had other favorite authors who didn’t make me have to ponder such uncomfortable issues as whether or not it was normal for a man to name his nether region Ralph (don’t tell me you don’t remember that part in Forever — I simply don’t believe you) and if there was something wrong with me for not being giddy when I got my period (I’m talking to you, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret). There was Paula Danziger and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, those Paul Zindel books and so many others that I’d have an almost impossible time picking which I wanted.
At the cash register, Dad would make a stack of our selections and even if I had three books — or four, too many for me to read by the time we came back — he never made me feel guilty for being greedy. And even though I didn’t want to read the “good” stuff — The Chronicles of Narnia or whatever else someone whose mother was getting a PhD in English Literature should be getting — Mom always told me that it was having a passion for reading that was important, not the quality of what you read. She may have been disappointed that I didn’t love classical music or art the way she and my brother did but when it came to books, she never made me feel too ashamedly low-brow.
Then again, she didn’t know about my Love Boat and Fantasy Island obsessions…