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.

Everybody needs a muse

My knobby fingers have quit moving.

And it isn’t the arthritis.

No longer are they keying in the words I want to share.

I’m been pulling together prior posts on Alzheimer’s and dementia with other writings I’ve done on memory loss. I hope to publish a book to help other caregivers.

But I’ve hit a roadblock.

So this morning I decided to go for a long walk to find some inspiration.

And then I found it.

Right there in the bright eyes of a cat staring at me from a bookstore window.

He was perched next to an old noiseless Remington typewriter. It reminded me of my aging and silent computer keyboard back home.

The feline suddenly jumped up as if to show me something.

In the reflection of the dirty shop window, he helped me recognize some current distractions in my house:

-Auto claim paperwork needing follow up from a recent car accident.
-Unread books on my living room coffee table.
-A crazy world spinning faster and faster on my TV and in my news feed.

I thanked the cat. I can ignore all three at least for the moment.

Then the feline led me over to a stack of the store’s newest and boldest book titles. Three impressive titles in particular caught my eye. I believe the cat knew that they might.

“ILLUSIVE”-Is it really an illusive goal to finish a draft of my book I wondered? The cat looked at me and shook his head. It just takes dedication and hard work he seemed to say.

“THE DETOUR”-I’ve been taking a long route to write and re-write my way around the toughest passages. I looked up at the cat again. He seemed to be nodding as if to tell me he understood. Maybe the boy’s dealt with some rough passages in his own nine lives.

“THE FALLOUT”-There have been moments I’ve wanted to give up on my project. The cat tapped at the window as I pondered this title for a while. If the whole point of writing my book draft is to potentially help other caregivers, who am I serving if I quit?

“No one,” I mumbled out loud.

I’m sure I saw the cat nod in agreement as I turned to rush back home to my computer keyboard.

Ooh la la!

In my quest to learn more about aging with joy, I’ve been known to pick up a book or two.

Though never before from the children’s section.

Yet one morning a photo of a children’s bookshelf appeared in my newsfeed. It was taken at Battenkill Books in Cambridge, NY.

One sweet book cover immediately caught my eye because of the little white dog and older French woman shown running beneath the Eiffel Tower.

I picked up the phone and ordered a copy of the book, “Madame Martine” by Sarah S. Brannen.

With my own little white dog Rex on my lap this chilly morning, we read it cover to cover.

I was hooked as soon as I read the very first words in the jacket, “Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to help you see things differently…”

“Thank you, Rex,” I whispered as I scratched my newly adopted boy’s hungry belly.

The book tells the tale of how the French woman was stuck into a rigid routine before meeting up with her new pup, Max.

But now with their partnership, “Every Saturday they tried something new.”

I looked down again at Rex. He looked up at me.

“Hey buddy, did you know it’s Saturday?” I asked. “How about a road trip?”

Perceiving a nod, we trotted off to the best French bakery in the city to share a buttery baguette.

I’ve been meaning to stop in the place for years.

“Ooh la la!” I barked as we pushed open the door, and I finally realized all that I ‘d been missing.

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.