My reading life didn’t have an auspicious beginning. I spent most of my grade one year at home sick with every childhood illness going – chicken pox, red measles, scarlet fever etc. This was before inoculations for these diseases. Consequently, my opportunity to learn to read was limited. Our grade one class was divided into reading groups named Robins, Sparrows and Skylarks. Although the labels were designed to disguise our reading prowess, we all knew the skylarks were the best. My parents learned with shock at one of the parent/teacher confabs that their little “genius” was in the bottom group – the Robins. That decided it. Dad would soon change that status.
So began a daily regimen of reading practice that I dreaded. Dad would sit in his easy chair, my reader on his lap and I was instructed to stand behind him and read every word perfectly. If I made a mistake or tried to fudge it by adding a word that wasn’t there, I had to go back and repeat the whole sentence however many times it took me to get it all correct. It was tortuous. I usually ended up in tears, mom would be all for giving me a rest, but Dad was relentless. No child of his was going to stay in the Robins group.
I should probably explain that my father was an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, trained in communications. My lack of reading skill was an affront to his training. So he persisted in drilling my recalcitrant brain to recognize and sound-out syllables until I understood what the dancing black symbols spelled. It might have been a total failure had I not wanted so badly to be able to read.
Mom and Dad had read books to us before bedtime every night. They read our favourites over and over. I loved “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Red Hen” and the now totally politically incorrect “Little Black Sambo”. I knew them by heart and wanted desperately to read any time, not just at bedtime. So I stood behind Dad’s chair every night for two solid weeks until I could read my whole “Dick and Jane” reader without stumbling. My teacher was astonished at my progress and I got an immediate promotion to the Skylark group. Ever after that she had to continually tell me not to read ahead of the others.
Once I knew how to read, I was voracious. I read anything in front of me from the backs of cereal boxes to the daily newspaper. That last item became the bone of contention between Dad and me as time went on. Dad liked to read the newspaper first when he got home and sometimes, if I wasn’t quick enough to put it back together, he would discover a missing section and knew exactly where it was. Heeheehee – his reading drills came back to haunt him.
As I got older Dad and I shared a love for mysteries, historical novels and Zane Grey westerns which we traded back and forth. After reading so much, I began to want to write my own stories and well, the rest, as is said, is history. Thank you Dad, for the gift of my favourite pastime -reading.