So I actively push the website GoodReads.Com. Almost every night before I go to sleep I read for half an hour or so. If I don’t, I won’t sleep well. In my car I listen to someone read books to me that I’ve downloaded from Audible.com. I love a story. Lately there have been some interesting articles on NPR about reading and brain activity. Reading has been a big part of my life for longer than I can remember. It’s been calling to me, “Steven, you need to write about reading,” a soft but insistent whisper. I’ve thought about what I want to say. It doesn’t fit in one blog article. There will be multiples. I’ll take this chronologically.
It’s 1958, I’m 3. We’re at Grammy and Grandpa Browns in Plainfield, VT. Lord but it’s late (maybe 7:00). A soft yellow light washes over me. I’m snuggled against the warmth of a soft flannel shirt, a gently rising and falling chest. Quietly, but clearly, Great-Grandpa’s voice reads, “Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy and Uncle Wiggley started down….” This scene was repeated an uncountable number of times. Before me it was repeated for my Uncle Rod, Aunt Linda, Aunt Judy, and my mom. Now it was my turn, though the books remained the same. There were Bobbsy Twins, Mother West Wind, and Uncle Wiggley. If Great-Grandpa skipped a page or paragraph, I’d make him go back. I had them all memorized.
It’s spring of 1961. I’ve just turned 6, haven’t gone to kindergarten (What is that? We’re NH. We don’t need no stinkin’ kindygardens!), have yet to start first grade. I’m in the back seat of the car, coming into West Stewartstown, NH. A billboard is washed with our headlights. “Next year I’ll know what those black marks mean”, excited before I can yet read.
It’s the end of summer, 1962. First grade is complete. The Flanders live just down the road from us, a late middle aged couple that had run a farm for years. One of their daughters had been a teacher. In their back room they had a treasure trove of books. Over the summer read through every one, relentlessly. At the end of the summer Mrs. Flanders said to my mom, “I’ve never seen a child tear through so many books so fast”. I wasn’t fast, just persistent.
It’s fall of 1962, second grade has started! The scholastic reader fliers are in. This is excitement! My mom and dad have given me a dollar, a huge sum for a struggling family. I get to buy my own books! I can get four books at the regular price, 25 cents. But the best books are thirty-five cents. What to do? Okay 3 books, two expensive and one regular. I never regretted it, for seventy cents I bought Follow my Leader and Champion Dog, Prince Tom III.
It’s spring of 1963, second grade. I go to a two-room school house in Stewartstown Hollow, grades 1-4 in one room, 5-6 in the other. My class is one of the very biggest ever. There are 5 kids in my grade. Mrs. Peas, my teacher for grades 1-3, asks me to go into the sick room, help some of the third graders with their reading. I think, “Geesh, are you kidding! These kids are bullies. They beat me up every other day after school!” Still, I go. And they are great to me. After all, I’m helping them. We work through the story, sounding out the words, following all the rules. When we are done I go back to Mrs. Peas. “I couldn’t get this one. I followed every rule. I sounded it out. I split the syllables between the consonants. I still don’t know it. What the heck is this, Now Here? What is Now Here?” She smiles. Duh! It’s nowhere.
It’s summer of 1963, I’m almost a third grader. Mr. Poore lives up the road from us, about a quarter mile past the Flanders. Kenneth Poore is in his eighties. He still works his farm with a horse. His serious traveling he does with that same horse and a buggy. He knows I love to read. One Saturday a month, the bookmobile, a magical bus filled with books, comes to the library in Stewartstown Hollow, about three miles from my home. Mr. Poore arrives early on one of those mornings. A tall, ancient man and a skinny scarecrow tow-headed boy walk all the way to town and back just for that incredible variety. It couldn’t have been more wonderful.
I’ve read over what I’ve written. Does it strike you as it does me that I was truly blessed by caring generous people; Great-Grandpa Brown, Mrs. Peas, my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Flanders, and Kenneth Poore. I pray a thank you to each of them.
There will be more to follow, promise.