I remember not being able to read – it was agonizing. I could not learn to read in school. No one knew, in the mid 1950s that there were such obstacles as dyslexia with its frequent companion, ADHD. I was flunking and doomed to a limited life of menial jobs where reading was not necessary.
Then my aunt, who was only eight years older than myself, suggested that the retired school teacher, who lived at the end of the mile road from my house, could teach me to read. Her mother, my grand mother, was also a school teacher, but no one thought of her helping me. She might not have been able to. I later knew a former student of hers, who was my age, and she said my grandmother would often stand up a large, opened book on her desk, lie her head down and go to sleep. After giving an assignment to the class, then she would be quiet herself. After a time of hearing nothing from her, one of the more courageous students would creep up to her desk and confirm that my grandmother was, indeed, asleep. The student would give a signal to the rest of the class and the class would become very, very quiet to let my grandmother sleep as long as possible. As long as she was asleep, there would be no lessons. The principal would walk passed in the hall, notice the utter silence, and be glad she was such an effective teacher! Needless to say, the students learned very little that year!
The retired teacher down the road, Hattie Warner, had been retired for a few years after teaching all of her adult life, agreed to take on one little boy. She may have welcomed the opportunity to help one more child. I’ve written about this amazing tutoring session in, “Adventures with Squiggles.”
I’d never had such caring, focused attention on myself. I wanted to please her. And, as a reward after each individual session, I was given a large sugar cookie. Oh, how I was eager for those cookies!
She held up her phonics flash cards, made outrageous sounds with her mouth, which were certainly NOT words, and expect me to replicate the sounds. I thought she was crazy. But, I wanted to please her, so I tried. And, once I got used to her house, there were no distractions. I eventually learned to match specific sounds to specific squiggles – and I was able to read!
Reading opened the world to me. Now, in my seventies, I have eight full-length collections of poems, one science fiction novel, one local history, one other non-fiction title, and three memoirs I’ve ghost written for other people, in addition to more than a dozen chapbooks with various content. Individual stories and poems of mine have been published in more than a hundred periodicals or websites, and more than fifty anthologies. Some work has been translated into several languages and, due to several websites where some of my work is posted, people all over the world are looking at or reading something of mine. In just the past few months this includes people in: Mumbai, India; London; Toronto; Rotterdam; Moss, Norway; Gustavo Adolfo, Mexico; Würzburg, DE; Kingston, Jamaica; Adelaide, Australia; Zutphen, Netherlands; Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine; Berlin; Oslo; Prague; Weesp, Netherlands; Temara, Morocco; Nha Trang, Vietman; Bedford, UK; Vienna; Ramat Gan, Israel; Nairobi; London, Ont, CA; Tilburg, Netherlands; Makishi, Japan; Dodoma, Tanzania; Halle, DE; Créteil, France; Davao City, Philippines; Haikko, Finland; Paris; Hamilton, NZ; Majuro, Marshall Is.; (no city named), Iran; Singapore; Cairo; Mannheim, DE; Glasgow; Istanbul; Casablanca, Morocco; Aix-en-Provence, and Périgueux, France; North York, Ont, CA; Manama, Bahrain; Kokopo, PNG; Nanaimo, BC, CA; Toronto; Gwangjin-gu, Korea, etc.
I am NOT making these names up! This amazes me!!!
If I had not been able to read, none of this would have been able to happen. Being able to read has given me a life.
Miss Hattie Warner died during my first semester of college. I hope she knew that that one little boy had gone on past high school. I eventually earned two degrees. As close as our community was, it is likely that the news of my going to college reached her. I hope so.
This is what reading means to me.
Thank you, Miss Hattie Warner.