ONCE UPON A TIME
Rather than our usual banter, this morning we like to steer our post in a different direction. We hope you enjoy the diversion.
My favorite words as a child were, Once upon a time, obviously the opening of many fairy tales. William’s similar memory was Sunday night’s opening music to the Wonderful World of Disney. He knew when he heard those words an adventure, a fantasy, or simply a series of magical moments would soon flash upon the reel of his imagination.
We have had the honor and privilege to read to children and I saw delineated on those young folks’ faces a reflection that reminded me of my youthful jubilance when I read those words, Once upon a time.
I used to carry several books around with me, imploring any reading-able body to read me a story. It didn't matter if they were young or old. It didn't matter if they had an accent or not. It didn't matter if they altered their voice for each character, although, that was indeed the preferred option. I used to say read me a story so often that it turned into a run-on chant. "Readmeastoryreadmeastoryreadmeastory...." There was nothing grander than being read to, a story where I could travel to a different land, where taste and textures were defined with whorls of words. One moment I was a baby rabbit, another a mouse with a hole-in-the-wall house, sometimes an audacious child. I especially liked rhythms, the playful beat and measure that tapped out a story, sometimes silly, sometimes funny, and sometimes very strange. Mattered not. It was the journey, that sweet, wonderful roller coaster of sounds that created dream bubbles that I could actually see in my mind’s eye.
I’ll share one of William’s first memories of reading aloud. I wrote this without first asking him. It is personal but as I later explained, apt.
William was a child with undiagnosed dyslexia and struggled early with reading and writing. Recalling that period, he has expressed the humiliation he felt not learning the same way others were, though he never felt sorry for that boy.
At an early age he knew he wanted to read and write and valued those tools. As an adult you can easily discern that his books are respected treasures and opening the world of storytelling is a passion. It was the Woodlawn Public Library located in Union Park Gardens just off the Bancroft Parkway that provided him what I call a breakthrough.
Reading and writing was an endless series of embarrassment and humiliation where the stumbling over words, the constant juxtapositioning of words and letters, and the inability to sound out words were painful. Peers at a young age have not developed empathy or compassion and would tease.
The third floor of that library was his safe place and by some unexpected gift of divine foresight, close to his home. His mother worked and that circumstance made it the perfect after-school sanctuary.
He once recounted to me the old radiators were far too hot, occasionally whistled, and tinted the air with that odd metallic smell of water boiled in an iron pot. While there, he would grab any read-aloud style children’s book, books far beneath his age, and hide in a corner on that third floor and quietly read aloud to himself. Never minding if he stumbled over words or struggled with inflection, he just read; hour after hour. Over time the books chosen became more complex and he slowly fought to compensate for his handicap. It was in those secluded corners hidden amidst the radiator smells I believe William birthed a deep love for writing and reading. These books opened a new world, free of ridicule and filled with possibilities borne from the imagination of authors.
Today, he fights and works so hard with our work to make it his gift back. Today, we both stand upon the shoulders of word monsters and bend them to our will, hoping that our Once upon a time moments give as much pleasure and entertainment that books and stories have always given us.
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