My father gave me a childhood I treasure. As a young girl, I was deaf and blind. Restless and wild, I lived in a silent prison until a teacher named Annie Sullivan spelled W-A-T-E-R and brought the world to the palm of my hand. I lived in a little house with Ma and Pa. My name was Mary, and my siblings were Laura and Albert. Growing up on the prairie, I knew that Laura and Almonzo would be together forever. As for me, I was waiting for my prince. My stepmother tried to keep me from true love, but I went to the ball, the glass slipper fit, and we lived happily ever after.
My childhood was filled with adventure, mystery and romance, all because Daddy taught me to lose myself – and find myself – in books.
I come from a long line of readers. A librarian for many years, my late grandmother felt at home surrounded by books. My late grandfather was a college professor, an avid reader who filled journals with notes from his studies. When my grandmother remarried a book lover later in life, books had so overtaken this bachelor’s home that she had to remove books from the stove and bathtub to set up housekeeping.
If I was a bookworm by nature, my father provided the nurture. He was the one who worked to pass on the love of reading. Story time was a nighttime ritual I relished as a little girl. With funny voices and sound effects, Daddy breathed life into the pages he read. Together we cheered The Little Engine Who Could to keep trying, shook our heads at the antics of Curious George, and yawned sleepily when the time came to say Good Night, Little Bear.
You couldn’t spoil a child with books, in my father’s opinion. Even when money was tight, he could always spare a few dollars to order a book from the Weekly Reader or book fair at school. With great anticipation I awaited the arrival of each book, knowing that new friends awaited discovery inside. (And I got a lot of fabulous kitten posters for ordering!)
Daddy marked special occasions with the gift of a book. My favorite present under the Christmas tree often turned out to be the book my father chose just for me. I can recall many times when I stayed up late on Christmas night, so enthralled with a new book that I had to read just one more page, one more chapter, before I could turn out the light. Now that we children are grown, the adults don't always exchange Christmas gifts, but the tradition of reading on Christmas night continues. After a day of playing with their new toys, when evening falls my children are ready to climb into my lap so we can read their new “D-Dad books.”
Books are still the perfect gift for my father. A shirt and tie bought for variety are received with polite appreciation, but a new book makes his eyes light up. His personal library has surpassed 5,000 volumes, but he can always make room for one more.
I am so thankful that my father taught me to love reading. Daddy showed me that the best place to find yourself – in life and in books -- is somewhere between “Once upon a time” and “The End,” because that is where the magic happens. And when you are a reader, you approach each book -- and each day -- with anticipation, eager to see what the next chapter brings.
D-Dad takes time out to read Emma's birthday book to Mary Ashley during the party, February 2007.