I feel as though I’ve been reading all my life. While I come close to the mark, I’m still a few years short.
I was reading on my own before my fifth birthday. My father taught me. The memories of this are even more special to me because my father was a functional illiterate.
Born in June of 1914, daddy had to quit school three years after he began to help work the fields of his sharecropping grandparents. Having a natural curiosity about the world, daddy always wanted to return to the classroom, but it wasn’t meant to be. Formal education simply wasn’t a priority for most people in rural Mississippi in those times, and definitely not for African-Americans.
My father taught himself many things over the years, but reading wasn’t one of them. By the time World War II began he was already a married man with a family. Being a good provider meant everything to men like my father, and work was always the priority. Again, in those times, learning was discouraged for African-Americans and ‘making their mark’ on legal documents sufficed.
His first marriage ended in divorce, and by this time, my father’s lack of reading skills embarrassed him. He wanted to better himself and have more in life. While searching for someone to help him, a friend introduced him to her sister – my mother.
Despite the differences in their ages (he in his 40s, she in her 20s), my parents’ friendly dating soon led to marriage. Daddy readily admitted to hiding the extent of his inability to read from my mother, and she admits to taking it for granted that he could. Doesn’t everyone know how to read?
Needless to say, by the time mom did find out – class was in session! Working fourteen to sixteen hours a day left little time for reading practice, but by the time I was born three years later, daddy had more than mastered the basics. I can first remember sounding out words with him…from the sports page! Daddy was a baseball fanatic and loved being able to read the team stories and standings for himself, so that was my first learning material.
As each of my younger siblings came along, daddy was a man on a mission. He demanded our best effort in everything we did, but reading and spelling were the priorities, and the first subjects he looked at on our report cards. Daddy wore the biggest grin when my fourth-grade teacher suggested he take me to the public library because I was already reading the sixth-grade books from the school’s small library.
My lifelong love affair with reading continued through school and into marriage and parenthood. My husband reads, but he’s one of those leisurely readers. I can devour six books by the time he finishes one. We read to our three children (and made up stories and songs) and they all entered school reading.
During their school years, I was involved in parent leadership and PTA and never passed up an opportunity to emphasize to parents how important reading to children AND having them read aloud was. I shared my love of reading also by volunteering with literacy programs for children and adults and reading to residents in nursing homes.
That’s how important reading is to me.
Perhaps it’s because I started reading so young, or maybe it’s the materials I choose to read…but probably not. I know it’s important to me because it’s the single greatest gift my father ever gave me. It was something he spent half his life striving for and once he got it – he gave it to me.
Even now, more than fifty years later, when I come to the end of an especially good book, I close my eyes, smile, and say, “Thank you, daddy.”
During the month of March, four random commenters – one each week – will win ebooks copies of some of my favorite books from authors like Toni Morrison, Terry Dean, and Walter Mosley!
March is National Reading Month and I invite you to #ReadwithMe by sharing a story about your love of reading.
Click on the Linky Tools link below to share a post from your blog/website about reading! (New browser opens) The join links are open until March 31st. Beginning April 1st, no more links can be added, but the Linky Tool and the links posted to it will remain active indefinitely!
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