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.

A cozy Christmas with a cozy book


Growing up there was one Christmas present I was particularly blessed to receive each year.

The gift of a new book!

My books were always carefully selected for me by my Grandma Esther. This grade achool teacher had a knack for knowing just what I’d like.

The topics were widely varied. One Christmas it was a simple tale about a laughing hyena, with detailed pen and ink drawings that made me giggle. But it still had a great message to share.

The next, I unwrapped a Betty Crocker cookbook just for kids. This little guide taught me how to make greasy, but gut filling grilled cheese sandwiches and the “best popovers ever,” according to Grandma.

But my favorite book of all was a children’s collection of poetry that Grandma tracked down just for me. After I’d moved away, the heavy dog eared book sat on a sagging bookshelf in my bedroom at Mom and Dad’s house. And it remained there for decades.

I’d often think about taking it, as Mom was encouraging my sister and I to move our ‘childhood things’ out of the old place. Yet I felt the book still belonged in my polka dotted bedroom, next to other old ‘friends’ still standing tall between the bookends.

I would find myself pulling out this treasury of poems to look up a favorite childhood limerick each time I’d visit, until Mom and Dad passed away and the house finally sold.

Yet maybe I’m still just a big kid.

My granddaughter’s the same age now as I was when Grandma Esther starting selecting the perfect books to put under my tree.

And I’ve just bought the perfect book for my special Granddaughter for this Christmas. It’s a simple tale about dogs, with beautiful illustrations, and an important message to share.

I’m thinking after the holidays when she comes over to make popovers, I may even show her my old poetry book.

That is if she lets me read her new dog book first.


Take a book, leave a book

Take a book, leave a book. How can the women walk by? These little free libraries have popped up everywhere. I love them.

Little fairies in the night stock them, at least that’s what I tell my granddaughter. Opening the fragile red door, I discover today’s bounty. Paperbacks of passion, morose mysteries, and pretty little picture books. I grab one for my husband. He no longer can read, but still takes pleasure in turning the pages.

I leave a gift for the two women. A great book, a best seller I want to read. I still have two at home unread, so thought I would share. I think of running after them, telling them it’s a ‘must read’. Perfect for young women. I change my mind.

Maybe I’ll stop by tomorrow. I’ll drop off a book and grab the best seller, if it’s still there.

I think it will be. I’m sure the fairies chose it special, just for me.

I still have the books, but the lilacs have faded

It’s 52 degrees this morning, windy, and the lilacs are fading away. But reading under their sweet scent this week will be a great memory. I bought my stack of books during a winter that never seemed to end.

I tend to read several at the same time. Maybe it’s good exercise for my brain to switch around story lines. I admit I think a lot about what I can do to keep my cognitive skills up to speed.

When I’m done with the books I’ll have some great reads to swap with friends and family. If I get my chores done this morning, I will be reading some this afternoon.

Most of my recommendations for my stack came from author, Jon Katz. He stops in most Saturdays at his local independent bookstore, Battenkill Books, and talks to callers looking for good books. I appreciate the efforts he’s making to help keep independent bookstores alive.

My sister told me this week that the last independent bookstore closed in Colorado Springs, where she lives. I think that’s very sad.