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April 17, 2011

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Her Mom as the Ultimate Book-Lover

Posted by Anonymous

Bestselling author Julia Spencer-Fleming’s latest novel, ONE WAS A SOLDIER, explores the problems veterans face as they reenter society. Born on an Air Force Base and growing up an “Army brat,” Julia recalls how her mother always made sure to stock the bookshelves of the family’s new abodes and, even in poorer times, kept book-loving Julia well supplied.

fleming.jpgWhen I was pre-literate, maybe five or six, my favorite book was A FLY WENT BY by Dr. Seuss. I know this not because I remember myself (my early childhood memory is astonishingly thin) or because a battered copy holds a place of honor in the old family bookshelf (in the military we moved frequently, and out-of-favor toys and books were ruthlessly weeded and given away.) I know this because forty-plus years later, my mother can still recite the entire book. Verbatim. She read it to me so many times, it imprinted itself permanently on her brain.

I firmly believe that all children are born with a love of story. It’s what happens after that makes them readers or not. Whenever we moved to a new post, one of the first things my mother did was to find the local or base library and get us borrowers cards. Whether we lived in a house, an apartment, or married officers’ quarters, she stocked the bookshelves for herself and for her children. She read to me and to my sister, and when my brother was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten, she read with him each night for years to strengthen his decoding abilities: one page Mom, the next page Patrick. (Since he later went on to graduate from St. John Fisher College and take an MBA from George Washington University, I think that reading program counts as a success.)

Perhaps more importantly, my mother showed us what a book-lover looks like. If you visit her today, you'll find a stack of paperbacks by her favorite reading chair, a library book on the bedside table, and heaps of magazines in each bathroom --- just like when we were children. (I think I was well into my teens before I realized some people don't keep reading material in their bathrooms. Whatever do they do with their time?)

Over the years, my book-loving habits must have been a trial. When we lived in Maryland, it was my habit to walk home from school, my nose in a book. One afternoon I was so very late my poor mother retraced my route, worried I might have been hurt or interfered with. She found me on a stoop, still reading. The story had gotten so engrossing I wasn't able to walk and read at the same time. For years I stealth-read at night, squinting at the words from the light entering my bedroom from the hall. Despite medical evidence to the contrary, I still have a guilty feeling that this is the cause of my poor eyesight, just as my mother warned. I shudder to estimate the money she must have spent in overdue fines and to replace the library books I lost, left out in the yard, or dropped in the tub.

We went through a period, after we had gotten out of the army, when we were poor. I had no idea at the time. Like Marmee in LITTLE WOMEN, my mother had a genius for turning deprivation into creative opportunity. There were caroling parties with hot cocoa and stringing popcorn, and trips to Saratoga's historical sites, and Saturday mornings spent “garage sailing” where I always walked away with a book or two. One Christmas, my mother gave me an entire grocery sack full of old hardcovers from a wonderful used book barn in the area. I was in ecstasies. The books followed me for years, and decades later, I still have several sitting in a bookcase in the room where I write this. I've had many plusher Christmases since then, but few gifts that have given me such pleasure for so long a period of time.

That's why, I suppose, I turned to a sentimental Victorian poem when I dedicated my third book to my mother. The frontispiece reads:

To Lois Greuling Fleming
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be ---
I had a Mother who read to me.
       --- Strickland Gillilan
Julia Spencer-Fleming is the Agatha and Anthony-award winning author of ONE WAS A SOLDIER, the seventh Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter
Start at the beginning of the story with In the Bleak Midwinter, now only $2.99 as an ebook. And don’t miss LETTERS TO A SOLDIER, a free eBooklet with exclusive content and an excerpt from ONE WAS A SOLDIER.