My grandmother gave me a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy.It was a sunny May afternoon in Sacramento several days before my tenth birthday. Gramma could never wait for the actual day. If she had a gift to give, she had to give it. We were on the front porch of her house on 4th Avenue. She sat in a rocking chair and I sat on a stool in front of her. “Here’s your birthday present,” she said, holding out the package toward me.
I opened the gift wrapped package and found the most striking book I’d ever seen. Through the clear plastic dust jacket I could see the stunning color plate on the cover. The Charles Scribner’s edition has beautiful color illustrations and pen and ink drawings by Reginald Birch.
I always have a reason for choosing a book to give as a gift. I wonder what my grandmother’s reason was for giving me Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Gramma was born in 1877. Fauntleroy was first published in 1886. She may have read the book as a young girl and wanted to share the story with me. Maybe she gave me the book because of similarities between Cedric (Fauntleroy) and me. Both of us lost a parent at a young age.
As an adult, the gift of a book from my grandmother is a curiosity. I don’t recall books in Gramma’s house. Newspapers and magazines are the extent of the reading she did. The thought of my grandmother going into a bookstore to shop for a book is even more curious.
How did she get to the bookstore? Gramma didn’t drive and depended on public transportation. My aunt may have taken her. Or, maybe she asked my aunt to buy the book for her.
I imagine my grandmother going downtown on the bus to Levinson’s Books. I know it was Levinson’s because there is a Levinson’s sticker inside the back cover of the book.
“I’m looking for a book for my grandson. He’s going to be 10 years old.”
The clerk may have asked questions to help him or her form a suggestion. “Does he play sports or do outdoor activities?”
“He’s not that kind,” I can hear Gramma say. “He’s quiet. He’s kind to old people. He’s just a nice boy.”
Whatever their conversation, I received a beautiful gift that I still have.
The book is worn and worse for wear. Years ago, I loaned it to a younger cousin who treated it badly. I was glad to have it back even in its battered state.
On the other hand, I loaned Fauntleroy to Miss Evers, a sixth grade teacher at my school, who read it to her class. Her thank you note is clipped inside the cover.
I haven’t read Fauntleroy since I was in junior high school. Once in a while he winks at me from his place on the shelf. I take him down and turn slowly through the pages to enjoy the drawings and time with Gramma.