The Book In The Attic, Part Two

Just landed here? Catch up with The Book In The Attic, Part One

Over the next few days, I read every story in The Read-Aloud Book. That Christmas, among my presents were childrens’ versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which told the stories of the Trojan War and what happened after. (Except for some important stuff at the end of the war, which I’ll have to talk about some other time.)

I was hooked on Greek mythology after that, and soon I branched into ancient history, too. I had a lot of interests in those days- astronomy was one, and computers were another. (Yes, computers. Way back when I was in eighth grade or so– I was a geek before I knew what the word meant. One more story for another day.) But definitely, all the way into high school, ancient history was my main thing, and I was sure I’d become a historian or maybe an archeologist some day, studying stuff that happened very long ago.

Here’s how hooked I got to be– as soon as Mom would let me, I took the bus into Hempstead to blow my allowance at a store called The Paperback Bookseller. Each trip I could afford maybe two or three books– English translations of histories by Herodotus and Thucydides, plays by Euripides and Aeschylus and all the rest, eye-opening poems by Ovid and Catullus, and plenty more. Those books are still on my shelves now, just like The Read-Aloud Book, but not only have some of their covers torn off, the type has shrunk over the years, too. Cheap ink, I guess.

When I went into seventh grade
– they called that “junior high” then- the school gave us a choice of three foreign languages to study: French, Spanish, or Latin. My father taught French for a while at Hofstra after he came back from the war. (He did a bunch of things there; he was always one for working two or three jobs.) But I didn’t find French interesting, and I sure didn’t perceive the advantage that speaking Spanish would become.

No, Latin was the language for me. I took Latin all the years it was offered, well into high school. We started out with simple stories about Marcus and Cornelia and their family, adding new words a few at a time. The second year we read the autobiography of Julius Caesar- at least the exciting parts about Rome’s Civil War, and his battles with the Germans and Gauls. The next year it was the speeches of Cicero, which I turned out to like. I still go around saying, “O tempora, O mores!” a lot, and maybe if I’m mad at someone for dawdling, I’ll mutter, “How long will you continue to abuse our patience?

The last year, we read Virgil’s Aeneid, which tells about the founding of Rome and the parts of the Trojan War the Iliad left out. I didn’t do too well that year- there were other topics starting to catch my interest besides arms and the man.

Still, in my first year at Hofstra, one of the first courses I picked out of the catalogue was something called Hebraism and Hellenism: A Comparison of Literary Traditions. What that turned out to mean was we’d be reading the Bible and the Iliad. Couldn’t ask for better, right?

Well, the first class, when the professor called my name in the roll, he looked around, then asked me, “Was your father a Hofstronian?”

Being a wise guy, I wanted to say, “No, sir- he’s always been Episcopalian,” but actually I was kind of proud, so I smiled and said yes he certainly was.

The professor grinned and said, “You know, just the other day I was saying that the last time we had a decent campus bookstore was when the manager was a punk kid named Bob Mackreth.”

I smiled even wider and said that I would be sure and tell Dad in just those words.

Somewhere in the first week or two, I noticed a girl sitting up in the front row, wearing- well, let’s just say she caught the eye. She was carrying a book with an interesting title, which gave me an excuse to make some conversation. This girl and I soon became friends, and we ended up hanging out a lot. These days a lot of people call her Ranger Sue.

So how many ways can a book or two change your life? You tell me.

That girl in the class expresses her opinion of my camera.
She’s still one for speaking her mind plainly.

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11 Responses to The Book In The Attic, Part Two

  1. Ron & Kris says:

    “… and that.. is the rest of the story”! This is marvelous fun! And I am still trying to picture an up and coming pitcher spouting Latin from the mound! Thanks for reading this aloud for the rest of us!

  2. Robert W. Mackreth, Sr. says:

    You keep giving me reasons to be proud of my son.

    The one time punk kid

  3. Ranger Bob says:

    Thanks, Dad. I know I need not point out to you that there are more roads than Sunrise Highway that run both ways.

  4. Mary says:

    Loved these two posts more than I can say…great story (well, stories, really!).

    Now I’m trying to remember which book I read when I was little that got me hooked on reading — I just remember a giant, swirling sea of books always being around the house. Maybe if I think about it for a while, one’ll jump out at me…

  5. Nancy says:

    I love this story! And the photo of Sue! Perhaps David will be able to continue the “punk kid” who reads tradition, even if he’s only a Mackreth “adoptee”.

  6. Jim Merkel says:

    I can see why she caught your eye.

  7. Roy says:

    Bob – that’s a pretty dramatic change-your-life example! I think of books I read over & over & over in my teen years: Desert Solitaire, Cache Lake Country being two – as life changers, in that they conveyed images, attitudes, opinions that resonated with and reinforced my own.

    there’s a lovely tale of this sort, not unlike yours in the type of book involved, in this interview I recently read:

    http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/431/your_own_damn_life

  8. Joyceala says:

    I recall vividly my utter bewilderment when, at the Hofstra campus computer lab, we were required to run a computer program we had written. Were it not for the tender mercies of Ranger Bob, who diagnosed and fixed my program in the blink of an eye, I would still be sitting there, clueless and frustrated. And flunking Dr. Hart’s course.

    Thanks again, Ranger Bob, for coming to the rescue!

    • Ranger Bob says:

      Um, Joyce, you’re welcome, but I am not being modest when I say the episode escapes my mind. I was probably coveting your Martin 12-string at the time, or something along those lines.

  9. lisahgolden says:

    A love story! Books, ancient history, learning and Ranger Sue. What a great photo.

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