Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Clayton book attic

One of these days/years I would like to do a mini-series similar to Montoursville 2018 about my childhood memories from the time we lived in Clayton, New Jersey (summer 1978 through late 1980). 

Thus far, my tales of growing up in the little borough in Gloucester County have been sprinkled, often as short asides or footnotes, around many different posts spread over a decade. I've mentioned the cats we adopted while living there; playing with Star Wars figures; the kids' shows we watched on WKBS-TV; watching the Leonard Nimoy-hosted In Search Of... with my friend Michael; Brigantine Castle commercialsplaying The Sinking of the Titanic boardgame; listening to "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" by McFadden & Whitehead; and chunks of Jersey glass that we found in the yard.

But there's no organization to any of it, which makes me a little sad and a little itchy. Little Clayton deserves its own chapter; it was a fascinating and formative part of my childhood.

That said, I'm not going to help matters today, because here's another post about just a tiny slice of growing up in Clayton. I struck me recently that our house, up in its creaky attic, had what essentially served as my first library. 

My first solid memories of going to an actual library are Dr. W.B. Konkle Memorial Library in Montoursville, starting in 1980. In Clayton, I had perhaps a dozen books in my bedoom, I have vague recollections of a bookmobile occasionally passing through, and I got some books — including the late, great Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins —  from neighborhood yard sales.

The place to browse through books was the attic of our very house.

Let me tell you a bit about that attic. The second floor of the old house had an L-shaped hallway. At the far end — at the top of the L — there was a door on the right. It opened to a semi-steep, half-spiral staircase that curved upward into the spacious attic. If it sounds creepy, it was. We fancied that it was haunted, of course. But that hardly stopped me from going up there often. 

The main room had low shelves (or perhaps they were just propped-up plywood) from one end to the other. And on those shelves were books. Many, many books. These were my parents' books. Books from their own youth. Books from their college days. And books they had accumulated throughout the 1970s. I was born a book browser, and this was my first experience with what would be a lifelong passion of just going through random piles of books and finding almost everything interesting in some way or another.

Many were paranormal-themed paperbacks that Mom had bought and read, and they were right in my 8- and 9-year-old wheelhouse, too (as you might tell from the second paragraph of this post). 

Here's what I remember for certain, 40+ years later: spook-themed books by Hans Holzer and Susy Smith; the distinctive Signet paperback of George Orwell's Animal Farm; several of Harry Kemelman's Rabbi Small novels (Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, etc.); other books compiling Fortean (not a word I knew at the time) vignettes, such as those Strange..., Stranger..., Strangest.... books by Frank Edwards

Other books that were likely up there include: various Ellery Queen paperbacks, J.R.R. Tolkien paperbacks, a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (which I believe was required by law for young families in the 1970s), surely some William Shakespeare plays from college, and much more. At some point, my memories begin to conflate with my parents' boxes of books in the attic on Willow Street in Montoursville and the books that ended up in the cellar of the Oak Crest Lane house in Wallingford, after many moves and a divorce. But they were all the same books, right? If they were published prior to 1978 or so, they were very likely in that spooky, sweltering attic in Clayton. Where I first discovered the joy of losing an afternoon to browsing books.

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