Treasure Island

The kind of inheritance one gets in my family (my cousin got the prow of an Egyptian funeral barge, and my brother got a box of Grandpa’s eyebrow hairs…Just your typical American family)

Silas recently has been very curious about pirates. He and I went for a walk a week or so ago, and he spent the entire time talking about pirate ships and reciting Robert Louis Stevenson poems (“I have a little shadow,” most notably). I was thinking what a big boy he’s getting to be. I suddenly remembered that I had my grandpa’s copy of Treasure Island, and thought he might be old enough to give that a try. He’s a precocious listener, having already listened to all of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Charlotte’s Web, and I’ve been looking for the right next book.

And then (that afternoon!) he wantonly tore up a really beautiful book, and I had to put all of his “big boy” books away for a week. He had plenty of reading material, as I left out the ninety-bajillion board books he and Petra have, as well as magazines. It was enough, though–those empty shelves made quite an impression, and I know he felt awful about it. I told him, when I put the Big Boy Books away, that I had been so very excited to share a particular, special, Big Boy Book with him, and I was sad that I couldn’t because I didn’t know if I could trust him with it. I told him a bit about it, and he was eager to have a look at it–but I left it put away.

Anyway, today was the day I restored the Big Boy Books, and the first thing he asked for was Treasure Island. “I will be very careful with it!” he said, and he was. This copy was printed in 1942, and belonged to my grandfather. Grandpa died two years before Silas was born. He had some advance warning that his end was near, and he took the time to designate specific bequests for each of his children and grandchildren. He was a world traveler, and had a number of unusual objects to pass along. For me–a pair of moccasins and his childhood copies of Treasure Island and The Boy’s King Arthur. I can’t help but wonder how these stories of travel and adventure influenced his own tendency to go to exotic places. He and my grandma traveled extensively, up until the last couple of years of his life. Petra is (in part) named for his deathbed memory of the stunning glory of that ancient stone city. He always sent us gifts from his journeys. The best souvenir was a cannibal’s brain fork, which he sent to my brother from Papua New Guinea. Their house is literally a museum (or was–I’m not sure if Grandma still accepts visitors), with displays of masks and puppets. It seems telling, then, that the books he managed to keep with him through his life were these tales of strange places and bold people.

Reading Treasure Island for the first time in probably twenty-five years, I was struck out of the gate by the immediacy of the prose. I hadn’t ever read it aloud, and the words feel good in my mouth. They create a strong mental impression, while also having good rhythm and euphony. This was a text designed for reading aloud. Stevenson doesn’t waste any time in getting interesting. You meet a pirate on page two! Silas seems to be enjoying it. Sharing this book with him means more to me than I thought it would. This wasn’t a book I loved and reread as a child. I remember reading it, but pirates weren’t really my thing. Reading a book that was special to my grandpa with the great-grandson he never met, though, feels significant. And when it’s done, we’ll still have “the knight in shining armor book” to share together, too.


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