In this season of gift-giving, I look back with a grateful heart and mind at those I received that had a direct influence on my present status as a writer. I had no notion in those early years, but now I see that my family was (perhaps unknowingly) planting the seeds that would lead me to where I am today.
I was read to. Often. Bedtime stories were a mainstay in our home – read to my sister and me by my father. My favorite was “Teeny-Tiny Woman.” I could listen to it every night and never tire of its predictable, rhyming cadence. At some point, I had it memorized and would catch my weary father if he tried to skip a page or two.
My older sister Nancy started school before I did. I wanted to go along, and I remember feeling sad as I watched her walking to the bus stop from the kitchen window. When she returned home, we would play school. She was the teacher (of course) and would teach me what she learned that day in school. (I remember dissolving in tears one afternoon because I could not write a cursive “f.”) What began as after-school playtime ended up with my ability to read, print, and write (cursive) before I started kindergarten. I remember the teacher not believing my mother, claiming that I’d memorized the books I knew how to read. So, my mother brought me to the school where I read from a book of the teacher’s choosing. That sealed the deal. The teachers didn’t know what to do with me, so I went to second grade in the morning and first grade in the afternoon.
Summers were spent at our lake cabin in northern Minnesota. When we left Duluth, there was a stack of books in the car for nights and rainy afternoons (no phone or TV). My father (still working) would come to visit us every Wednesday and on the weekends; he would shuttle the books read back to the library and bring us the next, approved number on our reading list. One summer, the local library in Duluth sponsored a summer reading contest and I won, with a total of 40 books read.
Along with books read from the local and school libraries, our schools had annual book fairs and sales. I’m pretty sure my mother cringed when she saw the check marks next to all of the books I wanted, but she only commented that most of them were about animals and placed the order. We weren’t rich, I was one of five children, and the family budget was probably tight. Nevertheless, she recognized my interest and desire and committed herself to opening up exciting worlds of adventure for me.
I know it was a long time ago. I know the world has changed. So much pressure is being placed on today’s parents to ensure their children are ready to enter school with the basics already in place. Parents are buying computers, learning apps., and sitting their kids in front of the television to try and meet the criteria and the deadline. Technology has its place and is a wonderful learning tool, but it can’t replace the time and dedication of another human being.
I was able to accomplish all that I did without a phone, computer, learning app. or television. But I didn’t do it on my own. I had a loving, attentive family that saw an interest and gave of their time and themselves to nurture it and encourage me however they could. And that, my friends, is a gift that no amount of money can buy.