Saturday, March 17, 2012
"I Remember Mama"
My mother is the one who taught me to love reading. She read to us almost every night. Unlike the photograph which my father staged, normally she would sit on a stool or in a chair in the hallway between my room and my brothers' room. We would lie in bed in the dark and she would read out-loud to us. She would read one or two chapters and leave us waiting for more the next night.
Among the books that I remember her reading to us are every single one of P. L. Travers' Mary Poppins books. The Mary Poppins of the books was nothing at all like Disney and Julie Andrews' Poppins. She was crotchety and plain and difficult, but also magical and wonderful as well. She also read us the 1950's classic Beverly Cleary series about Henry, Ramona and Beezus.
The book that my brothers and I loved the most, and the book that really transformed my life was Robert Heinlein's Red Planet. My brothers and I loved the alien "Willis" the Martian "bouncer." The book was so enchanting, that I started reading ahead of my mother during the day time (although I still enjoyed hearing her read it out-loud). That lead me to the "harder stuff" of science fiction, which I began to devour.
Before I was old enough to have an "adult" library card, I would go into the main part of the old San Mateo Library (one of those built by Carnegie of stone, marble and lots of steel), and pull down Galaxy Readers, and the Years Best Science Fiction, and read story after story in the reading room while my parents did their Saturday shopping in town.
With her nightly story time, my mother made reading a wonderful, delightful, guilty pleasure that I could not wait to embrace for myself. She initiated me into that magic world that so stimulated my intellect and imagination.
One of the saddest things about the dementia that took over my mother's life in the past three years is that it robbed her of the ability to read. She could not concentrate enough to follow the thread of even a short story. She could read the words - she'd read complicated documents out-loud to me on the phone having no trouble with any of the words, but she could not follow what she read.