Roald Dahl

Mini Memoir Monday: Matilda

Reading didn’t make sense to me. I stared at the words on the page struggling to sound out each letter and guessing what the combinations of sounds could possible mean. My eight year old peers flipped through the pages of their books while I tried to remember what sound H made when it followed the letter T. The word that gave me the most trouble was “of.” No one could explain to me why the F sounded like a V – it all seemed to arbitrary. I could remember that the F was supposed to sound like a different letter but I couldn’t remember which one. Sometimes I’d think it was a T or a P so I’d pronounce “of” like Aught or Up. I remember sounding out the title Anne up Green Gables to my class only to be met by ferocious giggles.

Since it took me a few minutes to make sense of a sentence, I often gave up and refused to read. However, that didn’t stop me from taking out books at our weekly class trip to the library. In third grade it was considered cool to like books, so I made sure to always have a book in my hand even if its contents were like a foreign language to me.

MatildaOne day I noticed a pretty shade of yellow on the library’s shelf. I pulled out the book and was immediately enamored with the drawing on the cover. The girl was sitting with a book in her lap, seeming to have difficulty reading.

I checked out the library’s copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and immediately took it outside to sit on the park bench and pretend to read it. The illustrations drew me in. I quickly learned from the drawings that the girl actually loved reading. There were strange scenes with a hefty woman who always seemed angry, objects floating in the air, and a sweet looking woman who drank tea with Matilda. The drawings intrigued me so much, that I forced myself to decipher the words.

After an hour on the bench I was five pages into the book and captivated. On the school bus home I read another page. I was noticing that some of the words were used a lot and it was getting easier to recognize them. By that evening, as I read through the next chapter, I could skip the whole sounding out process for words like “the”, “on”, and “and.”

During class the next day I kept my copy of Matilda open on my lap under the desk. I stole glimpses of the words while my teacher taught the multiplication table. I needed to know what happened after Matilda put super glue in her father’s hat and I needed to know how Matilda caused the television to explode. I worked my way through another chapter during lunch. When I placed my bookmark to save my page I stared in disbelief. I was half an inch into a book. Half an inch of pages filled with words that I had successfully decoded. And I didn’t even have a headache!

That night, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate because that’s what Matilda did when she read. I read about the mean Miss Trunchbull, throwing kids like baseballs. I read about the FBI agents investigating Matilda’s father for his shady used car business. I read about Miss Honey’s sad past. What intrigued me the most was that Matilda had telekinetic powers. Her brain was so developed that she could move things just by thinking hard enough!

By page one hundred I was convinced that if I could become an avid reader like Matilda, I, too, could have magical powers.

As soon as I finished Matilda I went to the library and took out every book by Roald Dahl. I poured over James and The Giant Peach (to this day I think of this book whenever I take a bath), The WitchesCharlie and The Chocolate Factory and The BFG. I couldn’t believe that I was able to see the scenes in these books with greater detail and vividness than any movie or t.v. show. I thought about the characters for days after I finished the book, wondering what they were doing now that their stories were done. Each book became easier to read. In the span of a month I went from not being able to read to winning an award from my teacher for being a “super reader.”

Matilda changed me forever. It taught me that hard work paid off. It taught me that I could take as much time as I needed – the words would still be there for me when I was ready to make sense of them. It taught that I wasn’t stupid, I just needed to get over a hurdle before I could run.

Since that day in the library when I picked out Matilda for its pretty yellow cover, I’ve never been without a book in hand. I’ve come a long way from not being able to read the word “of.” In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks that my telekinetic powers will form some day if I keep reading, but the truth is reading is already magical. I don’t need to be able to move spoons with my mind when I can create worlds instead.

Mini Memoir Monday: The wheelbarrow of shame

Wheelbarrow. Photo by sannse.

Photo by sannse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard for a chubby girl with a uni-brow and a lisp to make friends. That’s why I created a secret friendship club when I was seven years old. The club was so exclusive and so secretive that I was its only member. As president, secretary and treasurer, it was my responsibility to find a suitable venue for our clandestine meetings. The basement windows of our old house were surrounded by cement dugouts. These damp, shady pits were the perfect place to hide in the summer. I choose a dugout filled with old building supplies: a rickety ladder, a wheelbarrow, some rusty paint cans, and a tarp.

It’s also hard for a chubby girl to get up and down a rickety ladder. Once I got down in the dugout, I stayed there for hours. This was before the days of helicopter parenting, so my parents probably assumed I was out biking with the neighborhood kids, but really I was spending my days squishing the bugs that came out of the cracks in the cements, and resting in my rolled up tarp bed, reading Roald Dahl books. I always made sure to stock the dugout with Arizona ice tea  and girl scout cookies. It was the perfect haven for a girl who didn’t want to get bullied by the neighborhood kids.

The only problem with my secret club was that there was no bathroom in the dugout, and I drank a lot of ice tea. In the beginning, I braved the rickety ladder and made my way indoors for a proper toilet, but this got tiring after awhile, and the ladder was falling apart. The wheelbarrow seemed like the perfect solution. That’s when I started bringing toilet paper with me.

A wheelbarrow filled with wet paper would not have raised any eyebrows. Perhaps I could have gone on peeing in that wheelbarrow for years, but I got lazy and brazen, and started using that wheelbarrow for something much darker and sinister than pee. That’s right: number 2!

By the end of that summer, my dad, who owns a construction company, decided to have his men over to do some repairs on the house. From the depths of my dugout, I heard him tell Jose to fetch the wheelbarrow. Panic set in. I put down my copy of Matilda and eyed the wheelbarrow that was now attracting a cloud of flies. There was only one thing I could do. I pulled the tarp over the evidence, ran up the ladder, and threw it back so that it crashed against the side of the house and finally came apart. There was no way Jose would be able to get down there. I moved to the bench by the front door and took a seat. My feet dangled in the air as I pretended to lazily read my book without a care in the world as Jose  walked by mumbling, “Where did I put that stupid wheelbarrow?”

I felt a rush of relief when he turned the corner. Just as I was about to return to the house  to get a Popsicle, Jose came back, looking excited. “Now I remember!” he said to himself. He jumped down into my dugout without any assistance from the ladder. I had forgotten that he was nearly twice my height.

Next I heard a slew of what I assumed to be Spanish curses. My dad and a few more men came running. “Is everything ok?” he called down to Jose. I pushed through the crowd of men and clung to my dad’s side. Why is it that criminals always return to the crime scene?

Jose ripped the tarp off the wheelbarrow like a magician revealing his next trick. Everyone stumbled back and pinched their noses closed. My dad pushed me behind him, trying to spare me from the terrible sight. Jose heaved the wheelbarrow up to my dad, and my dad pulled it to the surface. There was a mix of English and Spanish curses.

Jose jumped out of the pit and examined the wheelbarrow. “I think you got a homeless person living in your window well,” he suggested, shaking his head in disgust. “You better call the police.”

At mention of the police, I burst out in tears. I had no idea what they were capable of, but I was pretty sure they’d be able to trace the remnants of girl scout cookies back to me. My dad put his hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” I cried out.

Bathing Memories

So beautiful!

When I look back on my childhood, few memories are as crystal clear as the time spent in the bathtub. When I was really young, the bathtub was Mermaid Land. The three of us would splash around and pretend to hunt for fish or sharks. My favorite thing to do was turn off the light and pretend it was nighttime in the kingdom. Then we would see who could sleep the longest under water – not a very safe activity, but we all survived.

When we got older, we graduated to my mom’s giant, red whirlpool. By this point we had moved on from mermaids to the jungle (we were highly influenced by Disney movies, I guess). My mom would put mud masks on us, and we’d splash around until the mud hardened and cracked. When my dad came home from work we would pop our heads up from the side of the bathtub and roar, pretending to be mud creatures from the Amazon. He would pretend to be scared and run away.


All this bath time adventure abruptly came to an end after I read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. In this story the little boy is upset that he has to clean off with a hose rather than in a bath like his rich schoolmates. His father consoles him by telling James that baths are actually really gross. Why would anyone want to sit around in their own wet filth? The thought struck my young imagination so hard that I couldn’t look at a bathtub without thinking of it as a disgusting cesspool of germs.

My aversion to baths grew as I matured. During my teen years, I was bombarded with commercials for Tampax or Dove, and they always had images of women bathing with candles all around them. Now I had the added association of PMS and menstruation to bath time.

But all that changed today. I forgot that today was the St. Patricks day parade, and while I went out for a nice walk from Union Square to Central Park, I ran into the obnoxious, underage, belligerently drunk and horny green crowd. I now know what it feels like to be a pinball. I was pushed around and stepped on more times than I can count. When I finally made it home, I needed something strong to relax my frazzled nerves, and a glass of wine was just not cutting it.

My boyfriend is in Vegas for a Bachelor party, and I figured if he’s having the most cliche weekend ever, well then so will I. I lit some candles, turned on the stereo, drew a bubble bath and had myself of Tampax commercial. And it was delightful!