My mother read to me. There was one thing for which she always made time: Reading to her children. And she always made sure that we had plenty of books from which to choose. She purchased children’s books — many of which I still have because the tattered corners are comfortingly familiar and the illustrations seared into my memory are so charmingly quaint and old-fashioned.
I still remember the day my father took me to the Children’s Section of the Lodi Public Library and I received my very own library card after demonstrating to the satisfaction of Mrs. Smith, the beloved Children’s Librarian, that I could print my own name. I wrote “Jane” on the index card she handed me. In return, she gave me a little piece of cardboard that bore my full name just above a metal plate with a number on it. My personal library card fit perfectly into the big machine on the wooden counter. The machine made a distinctive clanging noise each time she inserted a larger card that she retrieved from the envelope glued into the front of the book I was checking out. I can still hear that sound, but am at a loss to describe it. Each time she put one of the cards into the machine to stamp a new date under the rows of prior dates — all in bluish-purple ink — her charm bracelet clanged, too, as she smiled and commented about each book I was checking out. “Oh, you’ll love this one! It’s one of my favorites,” she’d say. Or “I see you’re checking out this new book. Oh, do let me know if you like it!”
I can still see the rows of wooden tables, the shelves of books. I can still hear the familiar creaking of the wooden floor, the sound of the glass door on the east side of the building closing as another child came in to peruse the selections or left skipping happily down the steps with the books he/she was taking home to enjoy. I still remember the sound of the door that led to the adult section of the library opening and closing as librarians went back and forth, or parents returned to retrieve their children after making their own selections in “the big room,” as we called it.
In such a setting, how could you not learn to love to read?
Reading became an integral, cherished part of my childhood. It was one of the primary ways I learned about the world that existed beyond the city limits of the little village of Lodi. Among my favorite books were those by Dr. Seuss. Well into her twilight years, my mother could still recite most of “Green Eggs and Ham” and laughed about having to read it to me over and over and over . . . recalling how delighted she was when I could finally read it by myself! My favorite Disney classic was always “Sleeping Beauty” because I adored Flora, Fauna and, especially, Merriweather, and loved to fear Maleficent.
Many of my fondest memories of reading revolve around the holiday season and the stories we all know so well. Among the many books from which I learned about Christmas, my favorites included “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” “The Gift of the Magi,” and a copy of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that my mother later read to my boys.
Of course, my primary source of information came not from storybooks, but from the hymnals and other music volumes from which I learned to sing and play all of the familiar carols. I still have every one of my piano books, beginning with the big note versions, and the many different Sunday School songbooks from which I played those carols for several decades during church programs, worship services, and parties. This week I’ll be playing them on my flute during two upcoming holiday concerts.
Like my mother, I read to my children in order to make them love words as much as I do. One of my fondest memories is of my oldest reciting “Small Pig” when he was about three years old. I read it to him so many times that memorized the whole story. I still tear up when I mention “Love You Forever” which sends them both running from the room, rolling their eyes in mock horror at their daffy old sentimental mother. We read it every single night for several years. Of course, there was a time when we were purchasing four or five “Goosebumps” books every single week. They were strewn about our house, cars, my office . . . they would not leave the house without two or three volumes. We later boxed them up and donated them to their elementary school. And there was Harry Potter who provided inspiration for several birthday parties since the movie adaptations of the books were released on or about Matthew’s November birthday.
When the boys were very little, the most special holiday stories included “The Nutcracker” which inspired my oldest to begin collecting them. To this day, he gets several more each Christmas, although it is increasingly difficult to find unique versions. And our all-time favorite is “The Polar Express.” We received a gift set, complete with the beautifully illustrated book, a taped narration by William Hurt — and a single sleigh bell. Each year, after we put the Christmas tree up with the train running around it, we would get out the book and bell, and listen to William Hurt read the story. I have never seen the movie — and have no desire to do so. I prefer to hear the simple, narrated story against the backdrop of a softly crackling fire and, in my own imagination,embellish those drawings by the light of my very own tree.