It was 1957, and I hadn’t yet turned 5 years old. Given that my birthday was only two weeks after the opening of the school year, I was afforded the opportunity to begin the year at the very young age of 4. I expect my mother was grateful. She had another toddler at home and would have an infant due in early December. With me, the eldest, in school, it gave her some breathing space to prepare for the baby and get more accomplished in her days.
Mrs. Garron, with her movie star looks, and perfectly coiffed blonde curls, passed out our readers, the first of the Dick and Jane series. I felt my heart skip a beat….all of these letters!! Letters that made words!!
Words that made sentences and sentences that made stories!!! Surely, to read must be the most wonderful ability on earth!
I don’t recall my parents reading to me. Nor my grandparents. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in school that I remember anyone reading to me. That is probably about the same time that Kay Kenney entered my life as a Sunday School teacher.
I used to daydream that Mrs. Kenney was my mother…for the sole purpose of having her read to me. She had the most wonderful voice … her enunciation gave life to characters, emotions, and even the elements such as the pitter patter of raindrops.
Words were magical…albeit mystifying. There are certain words that can still make me smile as I recall how I thought their pronunciation nonsensical.
Why, for instance, was island pronounced EYE-land, when clearly, as the 100% on my spelling test clearly demonstrated Is and Land are two separate words, and when joined together should sound the same, except holding hands…ISland? I was four years old and just learning to read, yet I was also just beginning to grasp the complexities of the English language.
To remember certain words, and the correct spelling, my father used various methods to drill them into my head. It was always my father, with his half completed Grade 8 education, that helped me with my homework. Two words in particular that I learned under my father’s tutelage stick out for me. Electric is one. He taught me to spell it in a sing-song cadence: eLeCtRiC….with emphasis on the capitalized letters. The other is February.
I prided myself, and him, on my spelling quizzes and tests, always getting 100%. Until February. Not the month. The word. Febuary. Over and over I practiced as he instructed. I wrote it down, I memorized it and on quiz day, I got it wrong. WHAT???? It can’t be wrong! I insisted. My Daddy had worked with me for two days as it was such a difficult word. ‘Sorry, it’s wrong’ said Mrs Garron through her red painted lips. ‘It’s spelled FebRuary. With two r’s.’
Anger doesn’t begin to describe what I felt toward her in that moment. I stayed quiet the rest of the day and after school I ran home … burst into tears and told my mother…saying unkind things about Mrs Garron. When my mother told me that Mrs Garron was correct I was stunned! How could this have happened?! Suffice it to say, my father felt terrible and took full responsibility for teaching me to spell February incorrectly. I quickly forgave him. Not so my mother and Mrs Garron.
Over the years I have decided that reading truly is the most wonderful ability on earth, for it gives rise to so many others: understanding; compassion; experience; knowledge; courage. I still enjoy reading, although admittedly more for pleasure than for knowledge these days.
My love of reading has passed on to my children whom I read to while they were still in my womb. They are voracious readers, like their mother, often getting lost in a book so deeply the world could end without their knowledge until that last word is devoured. My oldest grandson consumes books at a speed and depth that even I find mystifying. He is 8 and his knowledge of the world around him is astounding. His retention level amazes his parents and teachers. Like his grandmother, he ‘lives’ the book, and often mourns it’s end as he realizes he must bid farewell to it’s characters. But like his grandmother, he will revisit his favourites, time and again in the coming years. Like his Aunt, he reads well beyond his years, but his compression levels make it possible. She read The Grapes of Wrath at his age.
And so, to Mrs Garron, Mrs. Kenney, Mrs Welch, Mrs Hooper…and all of those mentors and teachers that lifted me up from a child of four that tolerated school with one end in mind, I say thank you. My mind, my heart, and life … owe you all a huge debt of gratitude. And on this cold FEBUARY day, I lift up my words to my father and am thankful for his instruction in my life.