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Sarah Simpson Column: Tossing traditions and beginning anew

I got a little closer. And then closer still. Nope, not dirt. Mould.
This is the special mould edition of ‘Baby Reindeer: A Finger Puppet Book’. It didn’t look like this last Christmas. I’m pretty sure it’s one of a kind. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Remember that guy I wrote about who sent me a not-so-pleasant email about his perception of the state of my house after I wrote about my junk drawer and the powers that be added a photo to the column that looked like, as he put it, “some deserted trappers cabin”? (Holy cow that was a long sentence.)

I fear that gentleman may be right! Let me explain.

A lot of my kids’ stuff isn’t new. We’ve been so fortunate over the years to have received tremendous support from my best friend in the Yukon, and from my sister on the mainland. Between their combined five children, everything and anything we’ve needed in terms of baby stuff, clothes, books, and even toys, has been generously offered.

Parents of children of a certain age know that it’s a mutually beneficial situation for both giver and taker as children outgrow everything at such a rapid rate. It’s a blessing to be able to foist your old stuff upon some other family and get it out of your own house to make way for the next batch of stuff your kids will be outgrowing in the blink of an eye. It saves the recipient a ton of money, too. Everybody wins…

All of this to say, I’m lucky to have help. I’m also lucky to not have had to spend a dime on our Christmas book collection. That doesn’t diminish its value to my family, however. The books are priceless.

Or, at least they were.

Every year we pull the tote of well loved books sent by my sister and best friend out of the basement and, even though we’ve outgrown some of the board books, we pore over each page, lift all the flaps, pull the leavers, marvel at the pop-up features, and have a grand old time as we read and re-read the collection. This season was going to be even better because my son would have been able to read some of the books without help.

For some reason unbeknownst to even my own self, this year I made the kids wait until Dec. 1 to haul out the tote. I’m not sure why, we’d already set up the tree and decorated the house. Why I made them wait for the books is beyond me. Maybe it’s because my subconscious knew I wouldn’t want to have to deal with what we’d find when we opened the tote…

The afternoon of Dec. 1, I went to the basement, grabbed the tote and brought it upstairs for my daughter to go through while I made her lunch. Things were quiet for a few minutes as she unpacked the box and re-introduced herself to the books on the top of the pile.

“Mom!” she said in a confused tone. “Why is this book all dirty?”

I turned to find her holding a “dirty” book with “dirt” covering the entire front of her white vest. (Why do they even make clothes white for young people?)

I got a little closer. And then closer still. Nope, not dirt. Mould.

Was that dear reader right? Is my home akin to some deserted trappers cabin?

“Oh. My. Gosh.,” I said to my daughter. “That’s not dirt, sweetie, that’s mould!”

After washing my daughter up, I grabbed the garbage bin and began to toss book after book as I pondered what had happened.

Then I panicked. Was my basement leaking? I bolted downstairs to find no evidence of water anywhere in the storage area.

There was clearly moisture in the book bin, though. My husband and I believe the most plausible cause of the grossness was that we weren’t careful enough putting the books away last year and one of the kids’ grubby soggy fingers left a little dirty liquid in a book and the mould spent the next 300-odd days growing. It could have even been a chunk of soggy candy cane or snack or something but let me tell you, I wasn’t about to flip through the mouldy pages to find the cause. To know it wasn’t a leaky basement was all I needed to know.

My four-year-old looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

“I just hate throwing away books, Momma,” she said, as if it were something I’d made her do all the time. But for her it wasn’t so much about throwing out books — it was that it was those books. It was the memories we’ve all had of the kids growing up with the books sent by their cousins and friends. It was the flaps and the pop-ups, the bright colours and levers; it was the time spent together as a family reading them that we mourned.

Together, we made a decision.

We could be sad the rest of the day, or we could drop what we were doing and begin hunting right away for some books to start a new collection with.

So, off we went, tucking our old happy memories into our back pockets, in search of new books and new memories.

If you’ve got a recommendation please let me know. Send your family favourites titles to

Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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