Life Between the Pages

I was twelve years old when I first read The Magnificent Barb written by Dana Faralla. As so often happens with great characters and young readers, the Barb and the Fitzgerald’s instantly became my friends, and my desire to be part of their world was closely connected to my girlhood longing for my own horse and a host of other emotions we are hard pressed to define when we are young. As the years went by, I continued to read it over and over each time recapturing the magic in my all too vivid imagination.

The Magnificent Barb is the story of a young boy and his family who live on a horse farm in Georgia. The farm, Mare’s Nest, had seen its horse racing glory days long ago. Despite the fact that the farm has fallen on hard times, Kevin and his family are happy and don’t seem to recognize their misfortune. At some point in the story Kevin, our hero, happens upon a starving and tattered wreck of a horse that he purchases from a local band of gypsies. The tale evolves as the horse begins to recover and show potential as a winning race horse. The boy, head over heels for his horse, nonetheless is not so caught up that he misses the fact that his sister has fallen in love with the son a wealthy landowner or to overlook the charms of a young gypsy girl around his own age. The tale plays out and spins to an enchanting close full of suspense and romance of the sort that is particularly appealing to dreamy, horse-crazy girls.

Although I don’t remember where I originally met Kevin and the Barb, more than likely it was at our local library, a cozy place where bookish kids were understood and everyone knew me, not only for my love of books, but also for my reticence in returning and the number of fines I was forced to painstakingly eke from my allowance. The kindly librarians never minded how long I stayed hidden among the rows and shelves that bowed beneath the weight of adventures waiting patiently to be read. Some days, I remained there for hours riveted by some tale depicting an alternative life far more glamorous than the one I lived as a bespectacled tween.

In June, that first month of sweet freedom from school, the neighborhood kids, played kickball or simply ran here and there screaming with laughter, like puppies let loose from a pen. Relentlessly, my mother pushed me to go outside and join them, but inside I remained, ensconced with my books in the pale yellow, second story corner room with the canopied bed, open windows framing potted African Violets and calico curtains swaying gently in the breeze. Somewhere in the distance, a lawnmower hummed reassuringly, and birds sang. The oak trees, fully dressed in soft green for the summer, whispered from the yard below. Happily curled up in my preteen lair I read, visions of horses, the boys and girls who rode them, and my own dream of one day owning one of these beautiful creatures galloping through my head.

Eventually, The Magnificent Barb faded from my memory along with all those other horsey dreams as I transitioned from middle school to high school and high school to college. Eventually, I left my sunny corner room in Pennsylvania for a life by the ocean in Florida. The years passed and any recollection of the Fitzgerald’s gave way to a avalanche of grown-up responsibilities like paying bills, work, home and car repairs, raising a daughter, and trying to tend to the details of my own life with whatever energy I had left.

Shortly after my daughter was born, my parents also left Pennsylvania in order to join us in Florida. The moving van that ferried their disassembled life included the contents of the house I grew up in and my former bedroom furniture. Mom and Dad began the lengthy process of building a new home. The room that was to house my old furniture was meant for my daughter who was three at the time and future sleepovers with Nana and Granddad. When construction was complete and furniture and rugs were in place, I walked into my old room for the first time in twenty years and caught my breath. It was a room fit for a fairy princess and just as special as I remembered, but even more poignant were the memories that came rushing back, filling my heart to the point of bursting.

That very night, surely invoked by my visit to the past, The Magnificent Barb crept back into my subconscious around two o’clock in the morning. I jotted the title down in the little notebook I keep on my bathroom counter for just such a purpose and located the book on Amazon the next day. Anxiously I awaited the delivery, and when it came I immediately sat down and read the book from cover to cover. Sadly, it wasn’t the same. The spell had been broken, and I somehow awoke to find an adult in place of my preteen self. At first, I was devastated that I was unable to relive my past. I even wondered if perhaps the book wasn’t as wonderful as I had originally thought all those years ago, but it soon occurred to me that my grown-up mind was simply no longer capable of creating such detailed, imaginary worlds. I was no longer a dreamy twelve-year-old and many other books and old loves, both human and equine, had come and gone in my life. My room was no longer a corner room in Pittsburgh with flowering African Violets on the ledge, and palm fronds instead of oak tree leaves, rustled beneath the window.

I never slept in my old room again. My parents, unhappy with life in Florida, moved back up north, and my bedroom furniture was given away as I had no room for it in my own home. The Magnificent Barb has been relegated to a cabinet along with other old keepsakes in a cabinet above the washer and dryer. I no longer have time to go to the library and rarely enter a bookstore. These days, I have a digital reader that not only saves time and money but space as well. Once in a blue moon, however, I’ll wander into a Barnes and Noble and stumble across a tween, legs crisscrossed beneath her, so lost in the pages she barely notices the glasses slowly slipping south toward the tip of her nose. Although such a scene always makes me yearn for my younger, uncomplicated life, it is also comforting to see that there are still little girls who continue to seek fantasy, exotic places, and opportunities to live vicariously between the pages of books like The Magnificent Barb.

I won’t try to reread any of my old favorites again. I’ve learned I don’t have to. The best way to relive childhood memories and dreams is to simply close my eyes and go where they live forever, carefully preserved in the recesses of my mind.

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