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Where Books (and Mom) Take Us

My Mom is an incredible woman. She is exceptionally 'book smart.' In an era when women went to college to get a “MRS” degree, my Mom earned her Masters Degree. While raising seven kids in Air-Force-World where moves happen more frequently than Presidential elections, she got a PhD.

She valued education above all else. I don't remember when we (finally!) got a television. I know that while my friends were watching one, my Mom took us on a tour of a bread factory, a Campbells Soup canning plant, and a Coca-Cola bottling facility. An old high school classmate of hers ran a funeral home. I was the only fourth grader who could identify an embalming table. Anywhere we could learn something Mom would arrange impromptu “field trips.”

To an extreme (and to a fault) “fun” was never in the definition of a family vacation. To be completely accurate, with seven kids and an Air Force Captain’s salary we couldn’t afford vacations. But when Mom was able to finagle something free on the Air Force dime – it was a trip to learn, not play. The Air Force would offer to fly us to our next duty station . Not the Bullocks. We put the flying allowance in a gas tank and camped. (To this day I have an aversion to camping. When it has once been an exercise in frugality, its appeal is forever stripped.)

We once drove through the Blizzard of '64 to New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to our next assignment in Ankara, Turkey. Driving allowed us to pass (stomp) through the snow at Mount Vernon and tour George Washington’s home. (Hindsight is 20/20 – who knew we would live in the shadow of George’s estate 10 years later?)

There was a period of weeks when we kept bags packed by the door so that when the Air Force called with "space available for nine in the hollow (and loud, and cold) belly of a C-142 overnight to Hawaii - we hopped to it and went. It was the only way we could afford such an extravagance. Once there, no beach for the Bullock kids. We toured Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Village, and learned the uses of coconut oil and tasted Poi. 40 years later I still remember Poi comes from the taro plant.

In 1976 our Air Force assignment was from Moreno Valley, California to Hampton Virginia. Can we fly this time? Nope. By now it was a family of 7 pre- or teenagers which required 3 vehicles and a pulled pop-up camper. This caravan saw the California Redwoods, the lights of Las Vegas, swam in the Salt Lake of Utah, experienced the Bicentennial at Mount Rushmore, stranded Kevin Bullock at a rest stop in Kansas, (4000 miles, 7 kids, 3 cars, no cell phones, it happens) visited family in Texas, drove through Graceland (too close to FUN, we didn’t stop) and hated each other by the time we arrived in Virginia.

My Mom is a library connoisseur. Many may know Columbus, Ohio is the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. My Mom knows it is the home of The Columbus Metropolitan Library, rated the #1 library in the Nation by the National Association of Librarians. True. I had my own library card a decade before my driver’s license and spent far more time behind the pages of books than the wheel of the shared family station wagon.

Why do these memories hit me right now? Because of The Happy Hollisters. I was perusing E-bay recently and a collection of Happy Hollister books sent me back to 1965. In the miracle of memory-stimulated time travel I returned to the excitement of the “Book-of-the-Month Club” – my Mom’s one extravagance on a limited budget. This series in the genre of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, though not as famous, had the wholesome and oh-so-traditional Hollister Family (Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, Sue and dog Zip) solving mysteries. Always with “Mom and Dad on hand to share the excitement and fun!”

Author Jerry West wrote 33 of these serial novels with “over 70 illustrations in two colors!” and I read every one of them. The arrival of the next Happy Hollister book was a count-down event, a Christmas-day a month; an escape to be savored to the last “swell!” and falling to sleep in anticipation of the next adventure.

I ordered the books. They arrived today. I touched them. I smelled them. I read the yellowed pages. I wish I could say I remember the stories. I do not. But I remember the sacrifice of a Mom who wasn’t much fun. A Mom who taught me to love books: that books open minds which open worlds which open opportunity which enrich a lifetime.

Thank you Mom. And Jerry West.

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