A Mother’s Love of Reading

As I get older and older and eventually, perhaps, very old, I will continue to cherish the lifelong love of reading that my parents, especially Mom, set by their example and their encouragement.

My mother, a fostered child who taught for several years in a one-room country school in the Kansas of the 1920s, married my father, ten years older, in May of 1929.  As any young woman of her generation would have done, she ended her professional career, became the helpmate of my father on his then-eighty-acre farm, raised three children, and endured much that made her stronger mentally and emotionally and physically.  In the time of wheat harvesting a work day extended from dawn, or before, to stark dark.  Mom was expected to provide four meals during the summer gathering-in as well as to do all the other chores among the animals and the vegetable garden and the potato field and wherever else needed.

After they sold the farm and retired, Mom began to find more time to read and as well to write usually several letters a week to friends and family members.  She often now, with more spare time, shared with me and others favorite poems or anecdotes she came across.  Her love of books and reading is shown in a poem by Janice James that she told our son Richard (as he was clandestinely collecting documents from all over to fit into an album he and his mother were preparing as recognition of my retirement in 1997.  Mom said this: “These lines fit Ray to a T.  He read many, many books from the school library or the city library.  Sometimes we attended a movie but he would rather stay home and read a good book”:
I’ve travelled the world twice over,
Met the famous: saints and sinners,
Poets and artists, kings and queens,
Old stars and hopeful beginners.
I’ve been where no-one’s been before,
Learned secrets from writers and cooks
All with one library ticket
To the wonderful world of books.

Today, if Mom were still here, I would call or write her about a book, a memoir, that I was reading and that I was enjoying very much, for it was the remembrances of a writer, who did not publish a book until he was sixty-six years old.  Frank McCourt’s story of his mother and their gritty lives in this country and then back again to live in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes, became not only a best-seller but also the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Award, and the L.A. Times Book Award.

The book by Mr. McCourt that I am reading now is his third.   And it is the story of his teaching for thirty years in the turbulent and oft-chaotic English classrooms of New York City.  One paragraph from Teacher Man, a book Mom would have deeply appreciated but also might have shuddered about at times, will be enough to whet your appetite:
Facing dozens of teenagers every day brings you down to earth.  At eight a.m. they don’t care how you feel.  You think of the day ahead: five classes, up to one hundred and seventy-five American adolescents; moody, hungry, in love, anxious, horny, energetic, challenging. No escape.  There they are and there you are with your headache, your indigestion, echoes of your quarrel with your spouse, lover, landlord, your pain-in-the-ass son who wants to be Elvis, who appreciates nothing you do for him.  You couldn’t sleep last night.  You still have that bag filled with the papers of the one hundred and seventy-five students, their so-called compositions, careless scrawls.  Oh, mister, did you read my paper?  Not that they care.  Writing compositions is not how they intend to spend the rest of their lives.  That’s something you do only in this boring class.  They’re looking at you.  You cannot hide. They’re waiting.  What are we doing today, teacher?  The paragraph?  Oh, yeah.   Hey, everybody, we gonna study the paragraph, the structure, topic sentence an’ all.  Can’t wait to tell my mom tonight.  She’s always asking how school was today.  Paragraphs, Mom.  Teacher has a thing about paragraphs.  Mom’ll say, Very nice, and go back to her soap opera.

Very nice, and I’m going back to the AFC Championship Game.

RJR

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One Response to “A Mother’s Love of Reading”

  1. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Beautiful!!

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