When I was a little girl, I liked to read. I read everything I could get my hands on, much of which I was ill-equipped to fully understand. I read Huckleberry Finn in the second grade. Now that’s a good story for a second-grader, but so much more when I read it when I got older.
When I first learned to read, I did not know my letters. Sometimes, Mom asked me to spell the word I was trying to figure out; she was always busy with something, like brushing Deanna’s hair or fixing supper or changing a diaper, so she couldn’t just come over and look at my book every time I got stuck. I just recognized the words when I saw them, I didn’t know how to spell them to her. Then Mom would click her tongue in the back of her throat and let out a big breath of air through her nose, like a quiet “humph”, I’m pretty sure she thought it was too quiet for me to hear. She let go of whatever it was she was working on and looked at my page: from then on I remembered the word.
When I read to myself, I could skip the correct pronunciation, but at school, Teacher corrected me. One word I really struggled over was “determined.” When I had to read out-loud to Mrs. Weichts, I said, “detter-mined.” Teacher tried to break it down into syllables on the blackboard, but I had it in my mind one way, and it just stuck there. I was fine when I read it myself, ’cause I knew from what I was reading that “determined” meant the same thing as “pig-headed”; that’s what Mom sometimes said I was when I wanted to do something and she said “no” and I kept begging my case.
“Stop being so pig-headed,” she said to me.
Sometimes I wanted to say, “You’re pig-headed too, you won’t stop either.” I just kept my mouth shut and only thought it, ’cause there would be big trouble if I said something like that to Mom. For sure she would say she was going to beat me to a pulp, and she was good at sticking to what she said. I never saw her beat anyone to a pulp, but I’m pretty sure she could have. Once my friend, Diann asked me how I could keep from laughing when my Mom said stuff like that. I told Diann it wasn’t all that funny when it’s actually happening, it was only funny when I told it to her.
Once I was reading an article in the Sunday Parade paper about unwed, teenage mothers. The only person like that I knew about was the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Unless a girl was married, the only way she could get a baby was if an angel asked her if she wanted one. If she said yes, rays would stream down from heaven because a miracle was happening right there and then, and the next thing you know, she’d be expecting. The Parade article said that there were more black girls having babies with no husbands, than white girls; I wondered what was so special about black girls that they got more miracles than white girls.
At school I read in the Weekly Reader about Sputnik, and putting dogs and chimps and men into outer-space. Because of the space program, we got to have Tang for breakfast. Dad loved Tang; especially hot, like coffee. I read about computers in the Weekly Reader, too: my family would never get a computer, ’cause they were really expensive and they took up a whole room; we didn’t have any money or any room to spare.
Once a week during the school year, Teacher took me to the Book Mobile. Mom took me during the summer. I got to get 2 books − anything I wanted. Mostly I read stories about animals like: Black Beauty and Bambi, not the Walt Disney stories, the real stories, the ones that told how mean people can be to animals, mostly ’cause they’re just not thinking, not because they want to be mean. I hoped more people read those books, then their eyes would be opened. I read a whole bunch of stories about dogs; dogs can see right through how a person seems on the outside and get right to the gentle part of almost anyone. Sometimes that made me cry, ’cause almost always some grumpy person would get nice because of a good dog. Bonita said she always got happier around our dog, Nikki, and Nikki sure loved Bonita more than anyone else in the family.
In the summer, Mom signed me up for the Weekly Reader Book Club. Two books came every month. One was a story about some person from the Olden Days, like Edison; I found out some interesting stuff, like Edison got his ears pulled when he was trying to jump on a train, and after that he was deaf. The other book was a “You Were There….”, like You Were There at the California Gold Rush; these were all about the Olden Days too, only about some real adventure with a made-up kid along, probably Weekly Reader thought that would make kids like the books. I liked almost anything I read, anyway, and Mom didn’t care too much what I read, but one time I was reading a book from the Book Mobile, and she said I could read it, but I shouldn’t believe everything in it, ’cause it was just one man’s opinion, and a very scared man, at that, named Joe McCarthy.
I still like to read just about anything and I’m still learning a lot about people and the world by reading. I don’t always like what I read, but I try to hang in there until I finish, giving the author the benefit of the doubt and hearing him or her through to the last word. I learn a lot from listening to what other people got out of the book, too; much of the time, my eyes get opened to a whole new appreciation of book.