I’ve been crashing through Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. Crashing because it is good, and I’m loving it, and because I’m thrilled to have finally discovered Durrell’s voice as an adult, but also–possibly–because it is nine days overdue and I’m feeling like a felon.
I wonder if I’m the only president of a library board who racks up the balance dime by dime when the reading is good and the time has run out.
I’m not sure when I realized that this guy wrote actual books.
It was recent; that is certain.
His has been a fondly-held name since my mother gifted me with The Amateur Naturalist when I was eight (Maybe I was nine. Maybe seven. I was young.), but it took some decades for me to notice the library of works that he’s produced without pictures. This guy was prolific.
I spent a lot of time between the covers of that classic field guide back in the day, but lamentably, I only perused the many images and their captions. I was young enough that the sheer volume of words put me off completely, and I never would know Durrell’s gift with the pen. Until now.
I wasn’t a big reader.
Garfield, if you must know.
I still have it. The Amateur Naturalist, I mean. We’ve already established that I still have the other one.
Anyway, it still sits under my vintage 1970’s lamp-shelf-table-thingy that everyone tells me is a hideous eyesore, but that I will never be able to part with. It’s a lamp! It’s a table! It’s a bookshelf! Why on earth would I not want it?
ANYWAY, it’s been down there collecting dust for as long as I’ve lived here, alongside my Macmillan’s Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia, and 3 beastly books on North American birds from my grandma’s collection. A two-volume set (boxed!) from National Geographic, and a beauty from Reader’s Digest, publisher of all the really good books. I thought at some point along the way, while toting these and many other cherished books all across the land with me, that they’d one day be treasured by my children as they were by me. My homeschooled children. I figured they’d be critical components in our curriculum. I thought they’d write in-depth reports on clouds with the same Time-Life books that I plagiarized mine from. I at least thought they’d love the pictures.
I was sure.
I was wrong.
I did sell those Time-Life books on ebay somewhere along the line. I seem to remember the $317 bill at the post office to send them off to the next hopeful parent.
But those others, the ones under the lamp-thing? They’re still here, collecting dust, and I still love them. So sue me.
Funny thing about Gerald Durrell…
Well, maybe funny thing about me…
There were a few good years in there when I really did spend an inordinate amount of time thumbing through The Amateur Naturalist. I loved all those pictures. The page 29 sidebar with the droppings and the exit holes and the footprints will forever be burned into my brain. So, too–unfortunately– will the image of the Manticora on page 11. I’ve had a few dreams.
Well, by the time I was a teenager, Mr. Durrell’s name was firmly planted in my subconscious as deeply as all the grasses one might find in his Fields and Fencerows section (nostalgia to be found on pages 50-51). I’d hear his name and I’d hear all those fescues and thistles blowing in the wind as loudly as if I were there laying with him in the meadow.
Well, somewhat firmly.
By the time my mother became obsessed with Green Card, and our living room had it on regular rotation (I was 14, still captive to whatever mom popped in the VCR, and subsisted on a straight diet of Dirty Dancing, Green Card, and When Harry Met Sally), I had muddled a few of the details, and I was instantly convinced that Gerard Depardieu was my childhood naturalist, turned film star.
It all made sense. He was exactly as I’d imagined him.
(Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that Gerald’s face was plainly plastered in the first and last pages of my book, and was considerably older than, and in almost every way dissimilar to, Gerard’s. The devil is in the details.) *
To this day, mention Gerald Durrell and I instantly see that French waiter who rescued Andie MacDowell and all her lovely plants.
To This Day.
It should be noted–though it probably isn’t entirely necessary–that I was a suggestible youth. My mother took liberties with my particular suggestibility on a regular basis, and I am still recovering. To my knowledge, this one was all mine, and didn’t even need her heinous intervention to set me on the path of delusion.
I have to say, I’m not sure when I realized I was actually wrong about Gerald and Gerard.
It was recent; that is certain.
And it doesn’t even matter, because memory and nostalgia will persist.
This very evening, as I pick up my present Durrell and settle in by the fireplace for a nip, I’ll see a young Gerard Depardieu running around Corfu, nabbing tortoises and scorpions and sailing about on the Bootle Bumtrinket. He’ll be babbling in French.
If you need me, I’ll be recounting a few of my mother’s more heinous crimes against my childhood. I may have to start drinking,
* It is a sick twist of fate that my first grandchild would be named Gerard. An eternal monument to my confusion. My mother refuses to call him by anything but Tobias, despite her fetish with Mr. Depardieu. Or maybe because of it. Hmm…