The story as I remember it:
I’m in my later years of Junior High, and have just grabbed a new book from the school library, as I am inclined to do every few days. I am a well known figure there, and have a special connection with our Librarian. The school library is obviously somewhat restricted in their material, but my parents have never put any restrictions on what kind of books I can read, so long as I am reading (and I do, constantly), which means adult sci-fi is not an unfamiliar territory to me. Aside from that, my personal finds at yard sales have turned me on to a mystery series that all start with ‘The Cat Who…’, where a pair of Siamese cats solve crimes and puzzles. Written for adults, but very accessible to a young cat loving girl.
Back to the library; On the shelf, in the sci-fi/fantasy novels, is ‘The Cat Who Walks Through Walls’ – being a small school library I don’t find it unusual as I don’t think we really even have a mystery section. So I snag it and get on my way home, reading all the time in the car.
First and foremost, this is not the Siamese cats I know and love, not by a long shot! Those of you familiar with Robert Heinlein will know the book and are already laughing at me. But it’s good, a little confusing I will admit, yet I am glued to the pages. At home I have finished up my homework and am curled up in a recliner in the living room, nose in the book, across the way from my dad who is watching TV news, a pretty standard set up in the evenings. Mom has run to the grocery store to grab some items for dinner, and life is the absolute picture of normalcy. And then ‘Normal’ chooses to exit the room completely.
Out of the blue, “What are you reading?” Dad asks. This is really not something he ever seems interested in, but I’m always happy to talk about my books.
“Um, ‘The Cat Who Walks Through Walls’ – I thought it was a ‘Cat Who’ book but it’s not.” I answer and go back to my pages, while a minute ticks by in silence.
Without another word he gets up and leaves.
In most stories, this is the part where Dad goes out for a bottle of milk and never returns or something, right? Just to ruin the suspense a little, this is not that kind of story. Mom comes home from the store and asks where Dad went. All I can do is shrug, this is not in my paradigm and I have no explanation. It never even occurs to me that the answer to my question is what drove him from the house. Mom, not knowing what else to do, goes on with dinner preparation, and I go back to my book, mundane TV new continuing to blare in the background.
When Dad returns a half hour later, it’s with a B. Dalton bag in hand. For you kittens out there who don’t remember, before there was Amazon we had actual book stores (in my area is was Walden Books and B. Dalton) where we got our reading material. Bag gets dropped in my lap and Dad returns to his couch-throne for more news absorption. Inside is a blue covered novel, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. When I repeat the title out loud Dad nods and adds “Robert Heinlein.” As if that explains everything. I do finally put together that it’s the same author I’m currently reading… it turns out I had discovered one of his favorite authors on utter accident, and discovered that my dad had been quite the reader back in the day!
As I made my way through ‘Cat’ and then ‘Stranger’ we started talking books, in great detail. It kind of opened a door for us as I continued to explore the Future History timeline of Robert Heinlein, sharing tidbits, things we liked, and so on. Then there were more authors, although no more random silent departures which was a relief. We were good before, close and all, but this gave us some more things in common that really helped explain a lot of my Dad’s perspectives on Life, The Universe, And Everything. (And yes, he did introduce me to Douglas Adams, too!) Instead of silently watching Star Trek: The Next Generation side by side, we were able to make allusions and in jokes, comparisons and conversation that I would never have had before with him.
A shared love of Heinlein was, in fact, one of the things I shared with my first boyfriend in High School! Eventually, that path lead to the book that is now my favorite of all time, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’. And it all started with a mistaken grab off the library shelf.