On this pre-Thanksgiving weekend, some asshole stole my husband’s identity and gained access to our checking account on the very day we both got paid. With thousands missing from our bank account, I really need to express my thanks for a gift my parents gave me that really helps divert my attention from this financial nightmare.
While I haven’t had a terribly difficult life, I did not grow up in the lap of luxury, either. As latchkey kids of blue-collar parents with paychecks stretched to their limits every month, my sisters and I know what it is like to wear the same pair of pants every day, to do our laundry at the local Laundromat every Sunday, or to wash our hair in the sink because the hot water heater has been broken for months. We couldn’t afford a TV or air conditioning or a car with a complete floorboard, but our parents gave us more reading enrichment than even the priciest reading program could possibly provide: they read to us.
All my life, I’ve read to escape stress. A love for reading got me through arguments with friends, my parents’ divorce, my first heartbreak, college term papers, my interminable pregnancy bed rest requirement, and now, serious frustration with our bank. Reading helps me relax and soothes me in a way nothing else can, and I thank both of my parents for instilling in me a passion for books that can help me get me through anything.
For me, reading with my parents created lasting memories that bonded us and instilled a lifelong passion for reading that can never be taken away. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my mother reading to my sisters and me at bedtime. We would all pile into my parents’ bed (their room was the only one with window-unit AC) and surround ourselves with library books. I don’t know how many books she read each night, but I never remember Mom saying “no” or “last one” when her daughters requested more stories. She read with tireless enthusiasm, even though she worked full-time and must have been exhausted by the end of the day.
I still smile when I recall the time she read the line “How that BUMP made us JUMP” in The Cat in the Hat, and the entire bed fell down when we did the JUMP part. How I listened breathlessly as the Black Stallion trampled the rattlesnake on the beach. How I wondered if, like Pippi, we too could fit a horse on our front porch. How when my sister was learning to read, she read A Great Day for Up so many times I still have much of the story memorized. And whenever we complained of boredom, my mom would, without fail, suggest we “go curl up with a good book.”
While my mom read us adventure stories and fairy tales, my dad gave us humor and poetry. When I was a little girl, my dad could do no wrong. He loved to read, particularly books about the Civil War, and took us to the public library regularly. My dad was also great with sound effects. He would cackle like a witch while my mom read us the story of Baba Yaga or talk like the duck when she read The Ugly Duckling.
Dad would constantly quote poetry, especially Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, and Carl Sandburg. I can still remember the exact moment in 6th grade when we read Annabel Lee in language arts and I discovered that my dad did not just make those words up! I can also remember flipping ahead in my reading textbook to find the poetry unit and see what other poems I had heard all my life from my dad. (Apparently, he didn’t write The Road Less Traveled, either.) Twenty-five years later, my dad and I still love to quote poetry and try to stump each other over what line comes next.
So thanks, Mom, for sharing Pippi Longstocking, Hansel and Gretel, The Black Stallion, and Dr. Seuss with us. I couldn’t tell back then, but I now understand that you had to be tired after a long day of life insurance paperwork and cleaning up after three energetic little girls. Though you were never a big reader yourself, our reading time with you was priceless and lasting.
And thanks, Dad, for integrating classic poems into everyday conversation, long before I ever even heard about them in school. For teaching me how to make a story come alive for your grandchildren through crazy voices and sound effects. I still think you hung the moon, and I still sniffle every time I hear about sickly little Annabel Lee and her fairytale “kingdom by the sea.”