Offspring number five of five had not fully embraced the joy of reading.
This variance in familial expectations arrived as a companion realization to what offspring number three experienced, or failed to experience - many years earlier. Child number four enjoyed reading only to a point somewhere around the 8th grade. How three of the five did not grow up thrilled to the core to open a book is a somber mystery.
Books were given elevated status within the domicile from the beginning. Both parents brought to the union high school and college texts, as well as favorite childhood books that followed us year after year in our moves from place to place. Public library discards were considered treasure, and the infrequent opportunity to purchase books at a used book store or sidewalk sale had a spiritual quality to the moment of choice and purchase. Children were taught to handle books with care. As indisputable evidence of this fact, we still have pop-up books that retain their namesake feature.
Consanguinal kinsmen on the Tanner side also reverenced the written word by keeping prodigious personal libraries. Both Robin and James shared in passionate detail what they had read at school and enthusiastically recommended books which became my favorites as well. Because of Robin, I fell in love with Africa's "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "When Things Fall Apart". Knowing my love for Civil War history, she recommended "The Killer Angels" before it was popular. James had a great handle on Greek Mythology, historical and science fiction. He was deeply effected by "Number the Stars" and "Maniac Magee" in 4th grade. Robin's personal library (now combined with a husband's compatible love of books) is practically at a Thomas Jefferson level of acquiring and adding-to.
The diffusion of our cultural ideal with regard to reading prescribed modification as pertaining to 3 of the 5. They would not whole-heartedly welcome a book as a birthday or Christmas gift. As a result, I ended up reading those gifts again myself...great classics like "Watership Down", "Little Women" and "The Giver". Thankfully, there is an Evolution underway.
Since Leiland's mission, he is on fire with books and maintains a rigorous
reading schedule balancing ASU assignments with personal study. Asia recently purchased her own collector's copy of "Alice in Wonderland" ~ unabridged, the real deal. And then, there is Rachel.
A bubbly beauty to whom Angelina Jolie trivia, Disney's Cheetah Girls! and pop radio is life-blood, she has not enjoyed reading. Ever. It hurt my heart. In vain I tried to encourage, to inspire, to lead her to 'water' - always promising magical results if she would but give it a chance! Eventually I compromised standards. I agreed to help her read school assignments. We would take turns reading aloud whatever she felt was the insurmountable Kilimanjaro of student literature. Suddenly, it happened.
Last week it was "To Build A Fire" by Jack London. She asked me with a dead voice, "Is this one any good, mom?" I gushed. I clapped my hands. "Oh, are you kidding?" I squealed. "Be careful now, pay attention to the beginning. It's going to get scary pretty quick!" And we dived into the gold-rush Yukon on a fateful 75 below zero arctic day. The relationship between the man and the dog was easily grasped by Rachel, who knows the love for a dog - she understood the man's failure on this point.
But last night, it was different. "The Scarlet Ibis" the assignment,
the student declined my assistance. She only asked, "How about this one, mom? Is this any good?" Before I could correct myself I said, "Yes, but I hate it." She disappeared into her room. Much later, appearing suddenly at my side like a sodden ghost ~ a crumpled Rachel stood before me with a tortured little face, hot tears falling off her chin.
"Why did he do it? Why did he run away from Doodle, mom?!" she wailed, heart-broken.
I had forgotten all about her assignment. Rachel does not come to me for comfort. She does not allow touching or hugs. Yet here she was, almost destroyed by what she had read and needing an explanation. Pained, I grabbed my little girl and held her close. I begged her to try and understand that the older brother was still a child himself, and could not be wholly to blame . . . it was after all, just a story - it wasn't real. But softly I added, "This is the beauty of good writing, Ray - when the author can make you feel something simply because of the words he put on a page." Later, we would talk about the foreshadowing and clues in the family relationships.
It was magical, just as I had promised; she had been completely swallowed up in the story. She was responding emotionally to what was intended to evoke. It was finally, a great reading success for her.
But oh, how bitter-sweet. How terribly bitter-sweet.