Books in Boca Raton

This week, I had the pleasure of talking to my students about the literary phenom, Zora Neale Hurston. We read The Inside Search, a chapter from her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Dirt Road. In this selection, Zora describes a time when she is chosen to read for some out-of-towners. She wows them by creating big, bombastic pictures with her words-bringing Hades and Persephone to light in her little clapboard school house. After the initial meeting, Zora is gifted clothes and books. The visitors have taken a liking to her, and are intrigued by her intelligence. This reminded me of my childhood, and how I came to be an avid reader. Here’s a little reflection:

While growing up, I lived with my family in a sleepy little apartment on the south side of Delray Beach, Florida. My mother worked as a domestic aide in order to take care of my brothers and me. Her clientele consisted of the Jewish elite just a little way over the tracks in Boca Raton. Not even seven miles south, the pristine and placid enclave might as well have been on another planet.

Sometimes, my mother would take us to work with her. On the way there in a moldy taxi cab, or the back of my stepfather’s smoke-filled station wagon, we would be given a list of things that we could not do, and a description of all the things we could not touch. The homes my mother kept clean were opulent mansions, with marble columns and more bathrooms than bedrooms, which is still puzzling to me at 39 years old. 

Our rental had one tiny bathroom that always smelled of ivory soap and Clorox. I spent a great deal of time in that bathroom. It was my stepfather’s favorite way to punish me for making too much noise when he was trying to sleep.

I cannot recall exactly how much time my mother spent keeping those rabbit hole homes clean. What I do know is, the people who owned them were kind to us. Every time we had the displeasure of being dragged there, we were given butterscotch candy, caramels or other food items. To this day, I live for matza. 

Best of all, we were given books.

While my mother swept and shot us glances filled with fire and brimstone, I would get lost in the shelves. We couldn’t touch the Japanese porcelain dolls, or play in the bathroom with walls made of mirrors, but the bookshelves were a safe zone.  

I read books about sharks, dogs, and birds. Yellowed copies of Reader’s Digest, National Geographic and the iconic Vogue magazine were my friends.  The brocade dresses and heavily made up faces fueled my imagination and helped take my mind away from what I considered a paltry existence. If I had a book in my hand, I could ignore the fact that my mother was cleaning someone else’s home while our rough curtains haunted me daily, standing there covered with dust. I felt sorry for myself, and more so, my mother. 

I write for the other turtles in search of a nice place to hide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s