There are some books that always stay with you; books that you never forget and revisit over and over again during different periods of your life. That's the way it is with me and The Good Bad Boy by Gerald Brennan. I was in 5th grade when I was introduced to Pompey(what a name!) Briggs who was entering eighth grade and decided to keep a diary because "all great men keep diaries." It wasn't a book I owned or had taken out of the library. At the end of the school day, if we had been good and Sister Audrey hadn't handed out too many demerits, we put away our books, placed our hands on our desks as required and Sister read the story to us in installments.
This boy, Pompey Briggs, pretty much had a Leave it to Beaver kind of life. That is to say, so different from my own. His father had a white collar job and drove a car; mine came home filthy dirty from the radiator factory and walked to and from work. Pompey loved the smell of his mother making ketchup in the kitchen. I watched mine disembowel chickens and, believe me, it didn't smell too good. When Pompey got punished he was sent to his room and was denied TV. Our punishment was a good strapping with the belt. What Pompey and I did have in common, however, was that we both attended a Catholic parochial school, went to church on Sundays and got underwear for Christmas. That I could relate to.
I can see myself, second row from the windows, looking out at the blue sky with the wind tossing the branches of the chestnut trees as Pompey fixed the flats on his bike and met with the members of his secret club, the Beaver Chiefs. His story never left me. To this day I love books in diary form whether it be an adult fictional diary like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows or better yet, any children's fictional diary like Catherine: Called Birdie by Karen Cushman. I've read Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle too many times to count and still enjoy reading it. And from Pompey Briggs came, I'm sure, my own adolescent attempt at keeping a diary and my adult preoccupation with collecting blank books and empty journals in all different shapes and sizes.
There was another realization about the book that didn't come to me until much later: that listening to Sister was the first time I can remember someone reading me a story. We were immigrants to this country and while we kids were reading and writing English by this time, my parents weren't. They had, as the saying goes, "other fish to fry", like taking any overtime that was offered, darning socks, altering clothes to fit us and canning everything in sight. There just wasn't time for English language classes and there just weren't any children's books in Polish to be had and even if there had been, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have read to us anyway. They came from a different school altogether where kids were kids and it was their job to entertain themselves. The stories we did hear were oral ones, without books, about what life was like in Poland and about the hardships and hunger of war. Those stayed with me too.
There is one last, lingering effect from Sister reading to us from The Good Bad Boy at the end of the day. It's only when the day's chores are done and the dishes put away that I put my feet up and read strictly for pleasure.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.