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By Shelley Murphy
Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of seasonal shopping, I stopped by the salon for a holiday haircut. Moments after arriving, a young assistant appeared, and she led me to the shampoo station.
She applied toners and tonics to my scalp, requiring me to sit still for 20 minutes. The assistant asked if she could bring me something to help pass the time. I pointed to my book on the counter and requested she hand it to me.
She gave the book to me and said, “It’s so cool that you still read.”
What? My thoughts raced. What does that mean?
Was she judging my wisps of grey hair? My ashen strands are well-earned; I consider them a badge of courage and proof I survived my sons’ teenage years.
As she walked away, I sat contemplating her words: “You still read.”
I decided to chalk up her statement to a generation gap. In the millennial world of social media, she chooses FaceTiming on her phone instead of sticking her nose in a book.
I felt sorry for her, and not only because she wasn’t getting a tip. She doesn’t know the pure joy of getting lost in the pages of a spellbinding book or the thrill of reading enlightening words that expand the mind.
The book I took with me to the salon is a memoir, but I read a mix of genres year-round.
I always carry a book in my car. It’s an old habit I picked up during my boys’ pre-driver’s license period. Back then, as a taxi driver on the go, I never knew how long I’d wait in the car for my passengers, so I relied on books for company.
It wouldn’t be a summer vacation without sitting along the sunny shore, digging deep into the bottom of my beach bag to find the sand-smudged and sunscreen-stained pages of my paperback.
Years ago, I furnished each of my boys’ bedrooms with a bookcase, hoping they’d inherit my passion for reading. My grown-and-flown sons still have bedrooms in our home to which they occasionally return, and in each bedroom sits an overflowing bookcase.
Their bookshelves are stuffed with both books and keepsakes collected throughout their youth. Among the books that remain, some spines are broken, and some aren’t cracked; the shelves display reading selections ranging from The Adventures of Captain Underpants to A Tale of Two Cities.
This time of year, books share a special chapter in our family’s holiday history.
When my boys were tots, we began celebrating the spirit of the season by reading classic holiday stories together. Today, I cherish the tattered, timeworn tales and keep my stockpile tucked into storage boxes alongside our wreaths, stockings and ornaments.
Each year, as I sort through the seasonal containers, I pause to peek at the books’ enchanting illustrations and savor the moments spent temporarily turning back the hands of time.
Some of my most treasured holiday memories are of reading yuletide stories to my sons as they nestled snugly in their beds for long winter naps.
Of course, my kids outgrew the bedtime tradition, so we missed out on the naughty-and-nice, cat-and-mouse game of The Elf on the Shelf. As much as I enjoy a good book, I am thankful I escaped the seasonal stress of tracking the diminutive spy.
Every December, I include several books on my holiday wish list. I forgo asking Santa for a Kindle and eBooks, because I prefer the weight of the words in my hands. As a result, my bookshelves are bursting, and I have books tucked into corners, cabinets and closets.
So, yes, I still read. I celebrate the magic of reading at the holidays and throughout the year.
You really can’t judge a book by its cover.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 20 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.