Adventures I Had With the Characters from my Childhood Books

My mom’s boss once sponsored me a dollar a page in a read-a-thon and then balked at the final bill. He’d underestimated how voracious one child could be about books. I didn’t just read them — I absorbed them. Took them with me everywhere, made friends with the protagonists, and took off with them on adventures.

Laura Ingalls (pre-Wilder) and I met when our parents both hitched our wagons to the same train. She showed me how to collect food in the backyard and woods, helping me prepare for the winter. I showed her how to collect your dreams in diaries, with words and drawings and cut-outs from old National Geographic magazines. “You’ll want these,” I told her. “Because someday you’ll write about me.” I didn’t know that by the time I read them, the books were long done.

Scarlett O’Hara was twelve when she appeared in my time, with her giant hoop skirts and haughty demeanor. “You can’t wear that,” I told her. “You’ll stick out like a sore thumb.” I would give her a pair of my jeans and she would say ladies didn’t wear pants. I would show her the food in the fridge and she was amazed by the box of cold. I made her cry when I showed her the shower because she thought it was evil. She was a pain the ass, and I spent all of our time together trying to figure out how to get her back home.

Claudia Kincaid had the right idea about living away from home, but I didn’t live in a city with museums worth disappearing into. “That’s all well and good for you,” I’d say. “But New York is a long way off.” I was going to move into Fred Meyers instead. I would sleep on the display furniture, and eat angel food cake while watching Disney movies on 16 TVs at once. I would have unlimited access to new clothes. I would push myself around the store in a shopping cart with a broom. When they opened each morning, I would hide until the store started bustling, and then I would slip out with a woman who looked about the right age to be my mom, and ride my bike to school.

Sam Gribley found me in the woods one day while I was fishing with my father. While my dad watched our lines, Sam showed me how to collect acorns and grind them into flour. He told me about his hawk and hollowed out tree, and I told him about the tree houses I would build in the woods, and the fishing hole with the witch’s cauldron. We wandered around the woods and I would tell him to make noises, because my dad said it would keep cougars away and we were all by ourselves out here. We both agreed that siblings were nothing but trouble. Occasionally I would check my line, or dad would call me back to the river’s bank to participate in our fishing trip. When we’d leave Sam would stay and my dad would always hug me and say, “You did a great job out there today. We caught some real buets,” even if we hadn’t kept anything on the hook, and he’d buy me jo-jos and chocolate milk for the ride home, and I couldn’t understand why Sam wouldn’t want to go home again.

Megan likes to pretend she wasn’t that little kid talking to herself, but she was. Now she does a better job of only talking to her books in private.

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