I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A city with a small town feel that grew up with me instead of in front of me. There was a lifestyle in Tulsa which embodied all of us. The “Tulsa Way” is what I want to be able to define, describe and cherish.
For example, my memories of Steve’s bookstore on Harvard and how it shaped my reading life.
One of the best gifts my parents ever gave my brother and I was not being very involved in our interests. And I don’t say that with any hint of sarcasm at all! If you are my age, you too will remember, just being able to play or read or explore without your parents hovering and wanting to know if what you are doing is too violent or too sexy or unhealthy or anything else that is is vogue today. While we were not allowed to set fires, play with knives or jump off the roof, for the most part they left us alone to form our own personalities.
One of their demonstrations of this wonderful freedom was taking us every week to this little bookstore, Steve’s. It was a magical place indeed. Locally owned by Steve, himself, the store was small and clean and stuffed full of books, it was not at all highbrow and would never remotely be considered antiquarian. You would find no first editions there nor would you find rows of Italian poetry or sober hymnals. But you would find sports magazines listing the top Southern football teams and new, glossy romance novels and as I recall, it was the only place in town you could by the Sunday New York Times. It had a soda fountain which served chicken salad sandwiches on white bread and thick homemade milk shakes. Steve’s was the place you always went to when you had to buy a book for required reading at school. And coincidentally, the cliff notes for the book were always on the same shelf. Wink! Wink!
My family would go about once a week, rain or shine. The best days to go were when it was raining and on summer evenings.
When it rained, Steve’s became a sanctuary. As we drove into the parking lot I could see the lights from inside the store smeared against the rain and it made my heart beat a little faster. It was back in the day of curbside parking, so it was a short run to get under the big awning and into the store. As the bell on the door announced our entrance, the people standing their reading away, would look up for a moment than turn back to their books. How delightful a scene!
On summer evenings, they would prop open the door and the sun would send its rays right in their with you and the books. I used to play a game of seeking out the books which were specifically highlighted by the golden light imagining it was divine inspiration leading me to them.
We never went on any particular day or at any particular time. My father or mother would just call out it was time and my brother and I would pile in the back seat, with no seat belts, and off we went. Still the best family time ever.
I always got a mystery and a bag of M & M’s. Always. If you will notice my pictures, I selected the original M & M’s. I haven’t had one since they introduced blue. A personal protest of which I plan to continue for the rest of my life.
My family also practiced standard bookstore etiquette, the loss of which I see everywhere today.
- It didn’t matter if you had selected your book in the first five minutes, you waited without whining until everyone else was ready to go.
- If everyone else was ready to go and you hadn’t gotten anything, you needed to decide quickly because no one was going to wait on you.
- Hardbacks were expensive and they were special occasion books, meant only for Christmas and birthdays. You could look and long for them, but you didn’t ask.
- You never responded “yes” when you were asked if you wanted a bag. I remember my father getting peeved at me about this once. In his mind it was an sign of pretension and offensive to the bookseller. We carried our books out to the car ourselves.
- You never shared what you got, but it wasn’t a secret either. I came from a family of readers not censors, so no one was really interested in what you got- they were just excited about what they got.
These weekly trips to Steve’s molded me as a reader. By the time I was eleven years old I could easily read a book in a week. Not because of any silly rule like “you can’t get another one until you finish the first one,” but because I was excited to move to a new book and it was torture to get a brand new paperback and then have to wait to begin.
By being allowed to get any book I wanted allowed me to explore genres until I found what I really and truly liked, which in turn has helped form my personality. I think children today don’t have strong self -identity because they are pushed too much into what they “should” be reading.
And also, and this is important, I learned how to deal with disappointment and how to use simple reason and logic. And I would wager you do the same thing without even realizing it. If something horrible happened, say I read the complete series of something or my favorite author was not to be found on the shelves, I didn’t curl up an cry or become despondent. Many a time I read descriptions on the backs to try to find some similarity to what I was missing or I read the first few pages to see if I could even relate to the story. “Well, here’s one about a jewel thief, which is not something I’m interested in, but it does take place in Greece which might be fun.”
Just the other day I was at a bookstore and happened to see a little girl having a fit because she could not find the next book in the series she was reading. Her impatient mother barked at her to find something similar and I watched as the poor, little thing looked up at the high shelves in a panic. She clearly had no idea how to do this. She had been set adrift in a sea of stories with no survival skills at all.
Steve’s is closed now having been smothered out by the larger chains like a wildflower chocked out by weeds. It is gone now like so many places in Tulsa which stand out in my childhood memories, The Italian Inn, Lewis Meyer and Pennington’s. All of these locations can be found somewhere in books on Tulsa, but I don’t aspire to write their histories. I find myself wanting to write about my relationships with them like old friends. These are the memories I know see as shaping the person I have become, the wife, the mother, the daughter. The very essence of Tulsa is in my blood and as I age I strive to record as many memories as time will allow me.