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Barbara Parent

Where I see Sonny

I’m reading a story in the Sunday paper about a group of friends who get together once a month as a book discussion group. I reread the sentence stating that ‘Of Human Bondage’ is the worst book the women have read. By golly, I did read it correctly.

I need to call Sonny.

“Do you believe that?” I hear myself telling her. “‘Of Human Bondage,’ the worst book they’ve read! Can you really believe that!”

Of course, I can’t call.

Instead I walk over to the bookcases in my living room. The novels filling four of the shelves are arranged by author. The remaining shelves hold biographies, U.S. presidential books and a variety of William Maxwell and the more contemporary authors Richard Russo, John Irving and Dominick Dunne as well as Doubleday Book Club selections that date back to the early 1960s.

The books on the four shelves are my most beloved. Their pages bring me to Sonny. I was at an impressionable age when she came into my life. One would think the passing years might have dimmed her influence. But that is not the case.

My book shelves are just one of the many places I find Sonny.

Years ago, on a drive to Key West, I didn’t expect to come across her in a sandal shop in Tavernier, Fla. Bogey and Bacall perhaps, “stopping by” from nearby Key Largo. But then again, maybe not according to the travel book claiming the 1948 film that introduced the two was, with the exception of a few interior scenes, shot on a Hollywood sound stage. Was it the reflective mood of the Keys that brought Sonny to mind? Or the plain simple fact that the brown leather thong sandals on display, like gold hoop earnings and the scent of My Sin are Sonny no matter where.

The sandal shop on U.S. Route 1 was still miles from Key West where I paid $8 to tour the home of Ernest Hemingway and viewed a duplicate of Sonny’s own library protected behind glass in the bookcases on the second floor hallway of his Whitehead Street house. It was not surprising Hemingway owned the same books whose pages she had opened to me all those many years before.

In recurring dreams I am still babysitting her four kids. I begin when I am 11 and teach 18-month-old Gina her colors. The child is decades from the woman she will become and whom I look at today and catch my breath because I see Sonny in her eyes. Sonny in her smile.

I have lost count of the years Sonny has been gone. There was a time right after she died, when just the thought of her not being here to seek out her advice was incomprehensible. Would I have been a different person without her mentoring?

I move closer to the shelves, a glass of wine in one hand, the fingers on the other moving across each title with the awe of a child in the cereal aisle.

A.J. Cronin, Marcia Davenport, Daphne DuMaurier, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Somerset Maugham, John O’Hara, Morton Thompson, Henry Bellamann, Erich Maria Remarque, Gustave Fulbert, Victor Hugo ...

It is as if I read them yesterday, burrowing into their dialogue with the intensity I once gave the True Confessions magazines I devoured until Sonny abolished them the day I brought one through her front door.

“Read this,” was all she said, as she handed me “Rebecca.”

My crisp recollection of the authors Sonny introduced me to belies the mellowing effect of the wine. And while the Chardonnay does produce a dreaminess, reality is clear. It is that Sonny is not the collection on my four shelves that duplicate those that were on her shelves. Sonny is not leather thong sandals or gold hoop earrings, a perfume scent or a reminiscent smile.

She is a part of my very being.

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