I love words because of my grandmother.
It’s a simple thing, really, to gather a child on your lap with a book open for the little eyes to see, and read aloud as if time and duties and all the other business of life do not matter. In truth, none of those things matter more than creating a literate legacy for a child.
Did Grandma know the far-reaching effects these moments would have? She wasn’t a teacher. She just loved to read, and I caught it from her long before I ever started school. Over and over she read The Squirrel Twins to me, the adventures of Chitter and Chatter, immortalized in rhyme:
There were two little squirrels, who lived in a tree
As happy as two little squirrels could be…
She chuckled at the illustrations every time. Cozy there in her arms, enveloped in the light fragrance of her Avon sachet, the cadence of her voice seeped deep into my brain. One day I surprised her by taking the book from her hands and reciting every word on every page:
And this is the song they sang on the way,
“What a hippity-happity-hoppity day!”
“You memorized all the words!”
I knew what was coming because of the repeated readings, connecting the visual story with the simple pattern of the rhyme before I could actually read the print. It’s such a simple thing: What was poured in came pouring back out.
She poured in so much more than words – the love of words, the love of story, eventually the love of writing. My grandfather retired when I was five years old. He and Grandma moved “back home” to eastern North Carolina, leaving me behind on the Virginia peninsula. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said years later. Determined to stay connected, she began writing letters to me. I was soon old enough to write back, and when I told her that my dad (her son) complained about my using up his postage stamps, Grandma promptly sent a letter containing a book of stamps so that “you can write to me whenever you want.” I could almost see the defiant twist of her mouth when I read that line. Every summer when I came to stay for a few weeks with my grandparents, the first item on Grandma’s agenda was taking me to the tiny, musty town library where I checked out more books than I could carry. Nothing was ever deemed off-limits or inappropriate. I was completely free to read what I wanted, as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted.
When Grandma died, I inherited her piano, which now belongs to my musician son, and twenty-five years worth of diaries in which she recorded the minutiae of her days. In those pages, all those we loved and lost are still alive, the grievances of the time are now hysterically funny, almost sitcom-worthy, and her prayers for my teenage self are yet another heart-wrenching reminder of the lasting power of words.
She was a gift, my grandmother. A priceless jewel. Her name, in fact, was Ruby. Of all the things in life for which I am thankful, one of the greatest is that Ruby read.
Reflect: How are you helping light the literate way for the children in your life? Who lit the way for you? How might you return thanks?