Can you remember when you were four years old? Some of the children at Froggy Pad Day Care are four years old. Some are younger. Some are older. Some need to be read to. Others can read. The postcards from Mr. Nobody are important to every single child.
I remember my fourth birthday gift. A school bag, red plaid edged in brown leather. With a big strap to go round my neck. With flapped pockets closed tight by shiny buckles. With pockets where I store treasures. My Pinocchio book. Pine cones I hold close to smell the forest. A tiny pink stone.
My Mother reads to me. From thick pages close printed with tiny letters. From books with dark covers smelling of leather that captures and holds the flavours of the book. These books have no pictures.
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Her voice became David Copperfield. The words tumbled into my mind where I would turn them over not always understanding, not caring, simply lost in the joy of hearing the words.
More than anything else I wanted to read those books. Thick, fat books without pictures. Books with close square print holding secret stories.
“When can I read?”
“When you are six. When you go to school”
“But I will be old when I’m six. With white hair”.
I am six. I go to Cottage School. Two rooms, one up one down. The school smells of wooden desks deep carved with initials. The desks have circular openings that hold bottled ink. Mine is empty. I am not old enough to use a pen. I write with a thick, broad, flat pencil. The black boards are gray with old chalk. There’s a map of the world so enormous it covers an entire wall. I am going to learn to read. I am given a book words worn thin by countless eyes. DICK AND JANE.
I am six. I am furious.
I tell my mother “I am NEVER going back to school. Nobody says “Look Jane look, look. See Dick. see see, see Dick” . That’s not a real book! Where are the words from The Old Curiosity Shop, Oliver Twist? The words from Gulliver’s Travels and A Christmas Carol? Where are the words from your books?”
I am more than six. I am a compulsive reader. I read the backs of cereal boxes at the breakfast table. The fine print in advertisements standing in line at the grocery store. I cannot pass a bookstore even when the books are in another language. My silver memory box holds library cards from Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Calgary, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver. My oldest card, dated 1941, from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the place where it all began.
This holding a book in my hands. The feel of the pages. The smell of the ink.
This cadence of the prose.
This losing of one’s self to another place and time.
This reading of the beautifully written words.
This utter delight of being able to live a thousand lives.
I read in order to live.