You really needed a distraction. A mean school. A mean family. A mean mind. Scanning across the page, barely giving one word time to pass before the next rear-ended it, you sped through books. If you had your own bedroom, you closed the door and crawled to a comfortable spot on the bed. It got you through elementary school, middle school, and high school. Reading.
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Rose Eskridge, believed in teaching her students the power of books. She started with The Boxcar Children. She read us the book everyday during the last period of the school day. We’d sit around her in an eager circle taking in every detail of the lives of orphaned children. Right up until the last chapter. Then, she stopped. She informed us we could finish the book by checking it out from the library or buying it. Okay, it was going to have to be the library.
I was not assertive, allowing pushier students to check out one of the many copies of the book the school library carried until they were gone. Eventually, a few weeks later, I checked out the book and learned how the story ended. There were many more books in the Boxcar children series. I checked them all out and read each one.
The following week, she had a new book, The Great Brain, ready for the reading hour. I plotted and planned. I didn’t want to know what she read to us in advance. I couldn’t check out the book too early or I would have to check it back in before the teacher got to the end. I made a calculation when to check out the book to coordinate having it when she ended her reading, and my plan worked.
I learned the public library also had the some of the same books I was looking for in the school library. I tore through tomes in both locations. It was a very small town. I got to a point where I said to my teacher, “What if I run out of books to read?” She reassured me that would never happen.
My mother says I carried around a box of Golden books when I was two years old. But, I don’t remember reading before Mrs. Eskridge’s class. She made me love learning so much that when we were assigned to do a report on one of the fifty states besides our own, I did a report on all of them. I stayed after school where she played Elton John’s Crocodile Rock and Big, Bad John by Jimmy Dean on a record player while we cleaned the classroom.
I didn’t have my own room at home. To get a chance to read without interruption, I commandeered the bathroom. I was always “taking a bath” which really meant reading a book while sitting in a couple inches of water. I would periodically turn on the hot water again to keep the water from getting too chilly. My toes would prune. Once, I fell fall asleep while reading and dropped my book into the water. It was a library book, so I was in big trouble.
There were the adventures of Ramona and Beezus. It was addictive to follow the Three Investigators in the young Alfred Hitchcock series solving mystery after mystery. There was the loss of Terebithia, and creating my own in the island of trees situated in a nearby cornfield. There were horses like Misty of Chincoteague, dogs like the homeless, Candy, and all the animals treated by Dr. James Herroit.
At night, my mother told me to turn off the light and go to sleep; I was bothering my brothers. I did, and then I tucked the book under the door where light from the hallway came in. I read until midnight, maybe later. Sometimes, I fell asleep on the floor. Sometimes, I made it to my bed. More than once I didn’t fall asleep at all.
I went into 4th grade a strong student. They had labeled me “delayed” prior to that, the result of moving three times in 1st grade** and living in poverty. I went back to thank this teacher for the worlds she’s allowed me to see, but she had passed away fairly young. It’s a reminder to be thankful sooner rather than later for what others do.
**Research by New York University professors published in Developmental Psychology, online, Oct 5th, 2014 found frequent moves drove lower cognitive scores in low income students.