Reader of missing pages

My grandpa, my mother and some of my grandmother’s family were all avid book collectors. While still in Transylvania our house had a room completely dedicated to books storage and another one where my grandfather worked full of his history books. I have been fortunate to be read at and later to read myself all the children literature that my mother had read plus all the modern books that they chose for me. I remember long series of children novels with orphans who survived on their own for years in the woods, who were stranded in the jungle or on islands, cats, dogs, partridge chicks, Jules Verne adventures all populated my evenings.

As you entered the house, following the corridor you opened the door to the dark dining room. It didn’t get direct light during the day and it was lit only when we had guests for lunch which happened maybe once per year. The coolness of the atmosphere was probably doubled by the fact that this particular room like no other in the house except for the pantry, didn’t have a wooden floor, but a sort of cement. During the summer peak days it felt very good, in the rest of the time we most often avoided it altogether.

First door to the right was the bedroom, second one was the “piano room” which was actually also a bedroom only with yellow curtains and a black Ehrbar baby grand piano. My grandparents used to sleep here when mom, or others came to visit. The first bedroom, where I was sleeping too, was identical to the second, only here, between the two windows opening to the street, throned grandpa’s armchair. Each evening, after dinner, he would sit on it and read me more stories. Close to his ankles I was seated on a miniature chair he had made initially for my grandma, to keep her legs higher while sawing. Usually after the lecture he fell asleep to my slightly nervous amusement because he was snoring like a tiger. When mom would come to visit she read for me Quo Vadis, the Polish novel, probably a bit too tough for a four years creature but exciting nevertheless. When grandpa had to go to the closest town then my grandmother would read me romantic German stories about mechanical creatures, strange cats and mandragora use. Grandma would sit closer to the window to get more light on a smaller chair, mom would take me with her in bed to listen to the stories. I enjoyed both but definitely they didn’t have any of my grandpa’s majesty on his armchair.

The “L” shaped house hosted in the inner angle a covered veranda. That’s where I learned to read and to write, on a standing blackboard having some hens watching my efforts of drawing letters. It is also the place where I always imagined the lady cats having their banquet in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story. From the verandah three doors opened: to the attic stairs, to the books room (that was also storing now some of my unwanted toys) and my grandfather’s work room, filled with history books and Transylvanian historical maps. Most of these books would crowd the Bucharest apartment they bought around 1970 when they moved to the city.

Only after moving, during my first grade, my mother noticed that while reading and writing correctly, I had no pleasure to combine the letters I deciphered on paper into meaningful phrases. In other words I was able to get great grades but had nothing to do with actual reading. She came with a potentially dangerous idea. To my grandmother’s uneasiness, she literally paid me to read. She gave me one of the childhood novels and set a prize for a number of pages read provided I’d be able to recount what I had read there. It was called “Shirley the Empress of the Children” and, while written by a Romanian author, a lot of it’s plot was centered on a character very similar to those interpreted by Shirley Temple in her childhood movies. For me these characters were very familiar. We had just bought a TV and every Saturday afternoon the Romanian national TV would cast American movies made around 1930, or earlier. I won 100 Lei out of that reading, I loved the book, and I could never stop reading again, but I could never decide to spend them on something. That bill of 100 Lei rested in my red wallet until years later, while in high school someone stole it from me. I can still remember clearly how the blue had faded on that bill with time.

At any rate, with this method, my family created a reading monster. I was going with mom all over the country in our holidays. My relation with books was similar in a way to the relation between our days kids and their smartphones. We would wait in a train or bus station, I would sit on a piece of luggage, open my book and read, we were inside a car, bus, or train, I would open my book and read, we were having a quiet dinner in the family, the others would chat, I would only open my book and read. It is not that I wouldn’t admire heartedly the beauty of the Dragomirna monastery and its lake, but sooner or later I would find a place in one of its medieval towers, open a book and read. It’s a virus that never dies.

I went through all my grandfather’s library, then started buying new books and finally I landed in the local library. In the small house that was the library I realized finally what was missing from my grandfather’s books. One book of two had its front page torn apart. After some time it became intriguing, it couldn’t have been a mistake, or a usual happening like coffee accidentally spilled. The local library though had new and old books without missing pages, then I was finally able to compare. On those books without the first page missing it said: “The Royal Foundations”.