We are taught and are supposed to learn those three skills early in life. Reading is often the first skill youngsters attempt to master. I’m certain my love for reading began at a young age when my parents read to me and my brothers at bedtime. At first, they selected nursery rhymes from a six-volume set of My Bookhouse Books. Maybe you heard and repeated them too: Humpty Dumpty; Little Jack Horner; Hickory Dickory Dock; Hey Diddle Diddle, The Cat and the Fiddle; Mary, Mary Quite Contrary; Old Mother Hubbard; Ruba Dub Dub…and so forth. And there were my favorite stories like Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, The Little Engine that Could. My folks used that latter story to urge us on—a reminder of how the little engine (it was red in our version) kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can” as he tried to chug up a steep hill. When he reached the top he told himself proudly: “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
All the rhymes and stories were giant steps toward learning to read. By the time I started school, I had to say to myself “I thought I could, I thought I could” read. As I advanced one elementary grade after another, I became almost obsessed with books—novels to be exact. For one of my birthday parties—my tenth I think—I asked that my guests bring only books as gifts (pretty cheeky). My favorites were the Nancy Drew mystery books. Nancy was so clever, smart, and able to find just the right clues, like any good detective should!
In adult life, reading books, articles, online essays, features on websites, even some advertisements have been informative and helpful in my research for my nonfiction titles. However, sometimes first-hand experiences have prompted some of my published material, usually for magazine articles.
One early feature was about living in a travel trailer, a wedding gift for my new husband, Art, and me. The donor was my husband’s grandmother who had traveled each year to Florida for the winter. That should have been a clue right off that the trailer was not equipped for winters in DeKalb, Illinois, where we were both attending college–Art on VA benefits and me on a scholarship.
The trailer contained a small coke heater—you know, the kind of coke used for outdoor barbecues. That thing had to be stoked continually, especially at night. Several times, the heater got so low on fuel that the blankets on our pull-down bed froze to the wall. There’s more to the story, but I’ll only add that there was no bath in that little abode. We had to use a community facility in the trailer park.
Eventually we sold the trailer. After months of waiting, Art was eligible for GI housing on campus–barracks-like structures with several apartments for couples. We moved in along with used furniture; fortunately the kitchen contained a stove and ‘fridge.
Obviously college life meant more reading and writing, which I find nothing to complain about. But math (what in our earlier years we called arithmetic)—forget it. I hated math classes and finally had an excuse not to attend. I was pregnant and morning sickness was not welcome in academic classrooms. But we welcomed a newborn on a cold, cold evening February 8, 1950. And my reading began to focus on infants and child care.