Reading is a gift

My sister and I weren’t particularly close growing up, but she gave me the best gift I’ve ever received when I was four years old.

She taught me how to read.

My grandmother had already laid the foundation by teaching me the alphabet. One sunny August day I helped Grandma decorate her grade school classroom in a small Minnesota town. I was assigned the job of neatly taping each of the brightly colored letters to the walls while sounding them out.

A few weeks later, my bored eight year old sister Nancy peered at me through her blue rhinestone glasses and decided to lead me to the basement for my first reading lesson.

It was a rainy afternoon and the room smelled musty and of heavy spray starch.

Mom was ironing Dad’s shirts nearby while watching her favorite soap, “As the Word Turns” on our black and white console TV.

But she abruptly rushed over and turned down the volume when she saw us. Mom sensed something important was about to transpire.

“Now sit down, and pay attention,” Nancy instructed me as I slid into one of Grandma’s old cast iron and walnut desks saved from a prairie one room school house where Grandma had taught previously.

My sister then placed a dog eared copy of her favorite ‘Dick and Jane’ book into my hands.

We read the book together, with me slowly sounding out each syllable and every word on the pages.

In just an hour, Nancy deemed me a reader. Just like her!

And I still am a reader today.

My sister now lives in Colorado Springs, but we communicate frequently. Our calls and emails are often full of book recommendations.

And on her visits back home to Minnesota, we always visit bookstores as unfortunately there are none left in her town.

On my recent birthday, I realized it’s been more than five decades since I received that special gift of reading from Nancy.

I just opened the gift she sent.

It’s a chain, with a tiny turquoise bound book hanging from it just waiting to be read.

It seems our love, and a mutual love for reading is a gift that still binds us today.

Fairy dust in fall

Many here would say it was a magical morning.

And all rose early to take advantage of this beautiful autumn day.

In fact, our sidewalks were nearly full of life by 8am.

I’m now living in a kid friendly community and one kind to cats, corgis and chihuahuas.

Even chinchillas and chickens for that matter.

And the shopkeepers’ doors were open early to all.

So was the Farmer’s Market.

But I took a short detour before running my shopping errands.

Bright sunlight through blazing red maples illuminated the dusty path back to my destination.

I was in search of one old and hollow ash by the lake down the road.

But this is no ordinary tree.

It’s blessed with a little wooden door, right at the base, for all the children in town to see.

I was conducting preliminary research for a special birthday location for a soon to be three year old.

My own little grandson.

I wanted something memorable, and maybe mystical.

And this tree is both.

For years a kindly little elf has lived inside, or so the legend goes. Young children leave him notes and trinkets, and he always replies back in kind.

This day there were several of both, circling the big old tree.

I unfolded one note from Toby, scribbled on yellow lined paper.

“Hi, how ya doing today Mr. Elf?”

I folded it back up and neatly placed it by the others.

Some days the notes are asking for much more than a response.

Maybe a return to health of a loved one, or a recovery from an illness of their own.

I also noticed this morning the wooden door was locked, and there’s an inscription now hanging on a tag composed by the elf.

The elf’s written that he’s once again returned to the castle.

That’s where he travels when winter time in near.

I understand there’s a very lovely fairy who lives there with him.

Yet our elf still religiously returns to the ash tree each spring.

I’m happy to report he’s added a special feature this year for the chilly months ahead.

It’s a P.O. box, where the children can mail their winter correspondence.

I thought about picking up the letter from Toby, and the others resting below the tree that the elf had missed.

Yet I’m thinking our little guy will magically appear some morning before the first snow finally falls.

Suddenly I felt a chilly gust of wind from the north, and I turned to walk back towards the market.

I decided instead to wait until spring, when the wooden door is once again open, to properly knock and introduce my grandson to the elf.

When I met up with my birthday boy later, we conferred with the chinchilla in the bookstore on great recommendations for kid books on animals and other mystical kingdoms.

And we selected a couple for purchase.

My princely grandson is quite content tonight.

And so am I.

We’ll both sleep well in our own special castles, dreaming of one very special little elf.

Anticipating a magical springtime to come.


The decades have been kind to her.

Four years older than me, she looks four years younger.

But once we were kids.

Enjoying long summer days, playing leapfrog in Grandma’s little gardens till the sun made us sleepy.

Then crossing the railroad tracks to the old library on Main Street, gathering books to read back in the shade of the maple.

While dipping stalks of rhubarb in sweet sugar filled Dixie cups.

Until our teeth hurt.

And also our stomachs.

Today we still both love to read.

And like bookstores now as well.

Preferring those by cafés, offering cool shade from a maple tree.

Where we can slowly nibble our sweet rhubarb pastries.

Later, playing games in a nearby garden.

Just like always

But now the gardens are bigger.

So perhaps we better switch over to lawn bowling.

Barnyard in a bookstore

Thinking I needed to step up on my ’50 by 60′ bucket list, the first thing I did today was trip over a chicken.

A live one.

The big bird was dancing on the carpet of a bookstore, right by the front door.

Just like your local Walmart greeter.

This special shop is designed for the very young.

And the young at heart.

I guess that would be me.

I’m stopping by each of the independent bookstores within an hour radius that I’ve never entered before.

And in this particular bookstore I found the chicken had plenty of company.

I spotted cats, a couple of cooing doves, hairless mice, ferrets, and one big litter of kids in overstuffed chairs.


There may have been even more critters, children’s books and kids downstairs.

But I was just too chicken to go there.

Amazingly the store was spotless except for the mud I tracked in from my pink flip flops.

I became very excited when I encountered several of my favorite authors’ books, and I pulled down an extra special one from the shelf.

The chicken greeter walked right up to me, also excited as the book’s about a farm with animals.

Even though this is one big city bird.

But I still thought we’d be fast friends, and he’d surely want to sit right up on my lap.

Maybe even have me tell him the story.

That is, until he saw my camera.

And then read me the riot act with a round of cantankerous clucking.

Turns out this foul mouth bird prefers little kids to big, aging chicks.

But when I looked over my shoulder while exiting, I believe I caught him reading.

And he seemed to be really be enjoying the book.

Along with a young boy.

I smiled, happy the chicken had a new friend.

Even if it wasn’t me.

On the scent

I’m like a fox terrier who can sniff out a rabbit hole 5 miles off.

Though in my case I’m usually hunting down a bookstore.

When I lift my crooked nose in the air and catch a whiff of coffee and fresh baked goods, I know I’m on the scent of something good.

It happened to me again last week.

The smell of steaming espresso and poppyseed white chocolate bread drew me into a Finnish bakery after a meeting.

Munching and sipping my way out the door, I spotted it.

Right across the street.

A cozy, inviting bookstore with overstuffed chairs I’d never been in before.

Inspired, I pulled out my peacock covered notebook and scribbled in item number 13 on my ’50 before 60′ bucket list: “Visit all independent bookstores within a two hour radius.”

I wrote it right below item 12, “Sing karaoke just once down at the V.F.W.”

I’m trying to be more of a peacock to counteract my bookworm tendencies.

Anyway, I decided to continue on my bookstore quest last weekend.

I visited one store specializing in Native American books and art owned by novelist and poet Louise Erdrich in Minneapolis.

Then for a change of pace, I thought I’d hunt down another store run by Garrison Keillor in St. Paul. I knew it was nestled into the historic neighborhood where author F. Scott Fitzgerald lived and worked many decades before.

This should be easy to find, I figured.

My nose led me right past the apartment house where Fitzgerald once lived and wrote, the school he attended, then right into a cafe in an elegant old building where his mother resided.

And just as predicted, down the stairs sat yet another charming bookstore.


Feeling so proud of myself, l hunted for Garrison Keillor with my eagle eye.

I was thinking maybe we could swap hot dish recipes.

But I soon discovered this wasn’t his store anymore, and he had moved to a larger location nearby.

Just as I got back in the car, my allergies began to kick in.

My nose plugged up quickly as I drove.

I’d lost the scent!

I couldn’t smell anything.

And I was driving in circles.

I found out later I’d also transposed a number on this bookstore address.

Tonight I thought I’d try again to find the store until I saw on Facebook that Garrison is out of town.

Visiting with another bookstore owner I admire, 12 states away in upstate New York.

Who happens to have a shop that sits next to a great cafe with strong coffee and the most incredible blueberry scones.

I just added item number 14 to my peacock notebook: “Expand independent book store visits to the east coast.”

I’ll start packing right after karaoke.