Mini Memoir Monday: A Day, A Word, Two Worlds

Thank you all for the submissions for Mini Memoir Monday. I’m still reading through all of them, but this one struck a cord with me immediately. Congratulations, Book Peeps, on being the first featured author for this series! Here’s her touching story of how she first learned to read:

I quickly cleared a space on the square, red-topped metal folding table that formerly had served as a game table for my 2 older brothers.  Life being what it was for our family in the 50’s, this now dated, somewhat abused and always practical table now lived in my room.  It served me well as my sometimes crafts table and at other times was, with the addition of a bed sheet draped over top, mysteriously transformed into a tiny thatched cottage which sat hidden deep within a magical forest and was home for me and my favorite doll, Susan.  There many stories unfolded as my lively imagination roamed wild and free.

Sitting with me at this same table that had once again been recast, was my 9-year-old brother, sometimes lovingly referred to by our Mother as the ‘absent-minded professor’.  I was 5 and I remember having to put a couple of bed pillows on my chair so when I sat my head would hover over the tabletop. This is where my very first reading lesson was to take place.

My brother carefully removed a clean sheet of lined paper from his 3-ring cloth covered binder.  He picked up a pencil and began to write on that sheet each letter of the alphabet. Then, beginning with A, he slowly sounded out each letter with its correct emphasis. I followed him repeating those short and long vowel sounds, the hard and soft consonants interspersed with a few giggles. After a few run-throughs I had done so well my brother announced I was ready to try a word.

The exhilaration of the moment had me feeling giddy. I could feel the tingles of excitement dancing in my belly begin to rise higher and higher tickling my throat before rising further still where in my head they exploded igniting bursts of goose bumps on top of the skin of my arms and legs.   When I was excited, or tense I would inadvertently hold my breath and still do to this day. I released the captive breath and turned my focus back to the task before me.

My brother removed another clean sheet of notebook paper and wrote out the letters, c-a-t.  Very slowly, I sounded out each letter in heightened anticipation of revealing the word hidden within.  After a second attempt and then a third, I sighed feeling deflated.  I looked up at my brother for help.  “OK,” he said, “do it again but a little faster this time.” I took a deep breath and steered my eyes back down to that sheet of paper. I began as my brother had instructed and after several more attempts, running the letters together faster and faster, it suddenly clicked and out of my mouth tumbled, “CAT”!

Heady with the rush of adrenaline and hungry for more, my brother and I returned to that old reliable table over the course of several days to continue my lessons.  My world was exponentially expanding as letters transformed into words. Before long, I was reading short sentences composed by my brother using the new words I had learned.

As I became more skilled, the words were more quickly recognized which allowed me to relax my grip on each individual word.  As the words flowed, I now saw not only words but also pictures as a virtual lens snapped a corresponding image inside my head.  A dog runs.  See the cat. The birds in the nest go cheep, cheep, cheep!

The momentum continued and in the weeks that followed I gorged on every book, magazine and newspaper in our house including my morning breakfast cereal box, munching on word after word after word.

As I now reflect back it occurs to me what was once only paper littered with unintelligible symbols had now been decoded because of my eagerness to know what it was that others could see. What was gradually revealed, as my understanding expanded, was a world with a perspective very different than the one my unbridled imagination illuminated when it was the sole resident of my boundless world.

This naked truth is something I wrestle with from time to time. It begs, in the midst of my reflecting, to ask the esoteric and deeply spiritual question, “What is real?”

Is it not reasonable that imagination, which knows no limits, is reluctant to share the stage with the unyielding, imperfect, and all too often dominant occupants, man-molded knowledge, practicality and discipline?

These days, after thousands of books have been digested, I hunger still.  I’ve added drawing and writing to my creative repertoire and I’m happy to report my imagination gets more time to flex its muscles now that the daily responsibilities and expectations of every day life have been lessened somewhat.

I now listen as my 3 year old grandson who cannot yet read, makes up his own cryptic tales.  He sits on my lap turning the pages of his favorite book but it is now merely a prop. The story he tells has no connection to the words written and I am no longer allowed to read them to him.  He prefers instead to tell his own unique story in words inspired by his own untamed imagination.

It is a somewhat bittersweet revelation to realize that the day is quickly approaching where he too will, without conscious intention and with much unsolicited help, create a boundary between the wild, wise, limitless and intangible world and the external inorganic world that we, ironically, refer to as reality.

©Book Peeps, June 30, 2012

 

5 comments

  1. I don’t have such vivid memories or learning to read and write. I think it happened gradually moving from telling my own stories to learning how to read others and then writing my own words again.

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  2. Thanks for mentioning me, and I used to also make up my own stories before I learned how to read. Please feed his imagine, but at the same time correct him as he is telling his story with words of more profound vocabulary.

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