I have loved reading ever since the first moment I unlocked that mysterious miracle of decoding squiggles of ink on paper. But that didn’t happen easily.
I started first grade in a little rural one-room school in central Wisconsin. All 8 grades were seated in rows, about 20 desks from lowest grade to highest, left to right. In addition to the student desks, the teacher’s desk stood in front of the room, a door opened into an 8’ by 10’ library room near the teacher’s desk, with other doors to the hallway, a cloakroom and a tiny kitchen at the back of the room.
I loved going to school. After first grade, I was pleased to be advanced to the second row in the classroom, along with the other 3 kids in my grade.
By October of second grade, Miss Barrett sent a note home to ask my parents for a conference. There was discussion of why I could not read. Perhaps there was no literary stimulation at home? Did anyone read to the children there? Were there others in the family who could not read? Was there a history of (whisper this) “retardation” in the family?
Oh, the shame! My parents left the schoolroom with heads down, wondering what was wrong with me and what to do. Plans must be carefully made, as dairy cows must be milked, fed, and cleaned up after twice a day. A farmer’s workday is often more than 12 hours. But before long they arranged an inconvenient appointment with an eye doctor a distance away from the farm.
Several weeks went by after that appointment. Finally we returned to the eye doctor. I was seated in a special chair, and the doctor opened a small box. He took out a pair of small, pink-framed glasses and put them on my head. He checked the fitting of the frames behind my ears and then said, “You can open your eyes now. Let’s go look out the window!”
When we got to the window, two stories above the ground, I looked out. I blinked my eyes and looked again. What an amazing sight! I will never forget that view of red maple and yellow oak leaves in the yard below. I was astonished to see the leaves while they were still up in the trees!
Back in my little desk in the second row of my one-room country school, I could now see the blackboard. I could see the flash cards held up by the teacher. I began to read everything about Dick and Jane, Sally and Puff. I loved those stories, even though it seemed strange that Mother and Father lived in town! It wasn’t long before I was reading every book in that little library, including books far above my grade-level.
By the middle of third grade, Miss Barrett was bringing boxes of books for me from the county library. Fortunately she lived near there and knew the county librarian. She brought Caddie Woodlawn, Oliver Twist, Little Women, and so many other wonderful memories of my childhood.
How thankful I have been for Miss Barrett, and later for Mrs. Tieman, and their willingness to go “above and beyond” to bring me boxes of books which fed my mind, my spirit, and my soul.