I remember when I was four or five and I discovered the magic of copying letters onto a paper to form what appeared to be words. I still didn’t understand the sounds, but understood the symbols. I was at the family cabin in Silver Gate, Montana in the upstairs loft. I carefully scrawled letters in varying word lengths and would run down the stairs to show them to my mother. She would try to read the nonsensical words and sometimes they actually were close to something. But not understanding the power of vowels, she’d inform me that some of them were nothing. Still, it was the beginnings of writing and reading.
In 1st grade with book mark in hand, small groups of students and the teacher in a circle in the back of the room, I could read Dick and Jane books like nobody’s business. I longed to be in those books, to play with Spot, Dick, Jane and Tim. Their lives were so simple. They jumped, played ball, ran, skipped, looked—oh how they looked. Look Dick look. See Jane run.
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my neighbor Sharon, with her naturally blond hair the color of Marilyn Monroe’s, stood on the other side of the hedge that was between our yards. Sharon was about three years older than me, so was sophisticated in the ways of the world. When I told her I was going to the library, she said, “Be sure to get some Dr. Suess books.” When I found the Dr. Suess books on the bottom shelf of the fabulous basement Orem library—then in an old house across from the Scera theater, I was hooked by the magic of nonsensical words, some very much like the words I had first strung together years earlier, the beauty of alliteration, rhymes, and drawings that covered every inch of the page. I still believe Theordor Suess Geisel to be nothing short of genius. His capturing of deep philosophies and allegories in exquisite drawings and words has not been equaled. His powerful messages could indeed, not just captivate us, they transformed us. The world Suess created was infinitely more interesting that Dick and Jane’s world. Horton hearing who’s. And cats in hats, sneetches and green eggs! What words could be more wonderful?
Words: We used to shout at each other on the playground: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that was a lie. I had a teacher tell us it was a lie. I remember being confused and then relieved. Confused because it had always been taught. Confused because physical hurt was definable. But emotional pain was something we buried and denied. I was relieved because I felt bad whenever someone called me a name, and now I knew that was ok.
Words: I used to hate some of the words I heard at home hurled at me by my siblings: Stupid, retarded, baby, faker, or more like faker, faker, faker—a sing-song taunt. School was a safe haven because at school, teachers made me feel smart. I loved school, but I loved staying home on sick days too—without my brothers. Home alone with only my mother who never hurled insults. Home to I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island and Romper Room all day sipping hot jello drinks. Home to a stack of picture books—a good Suess book and a cuddly cat curled next to me. Even though as soon as the brothers came home I would be the faker, faker, faker—the hours of peace were worth it. I remember being home sick when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade and Miss Julie on Romper Room held up her magic mirror and declared, “And I see Carole who is home sick today.” My mom didn’t believe she was really talking to me, but I knew she was. She saw me. If she saw me, I wasn’t faking. I couldn’t be faking. Did that mean I also wasn’t stupid? Sticks and Stones. I used to shout it out to deflect the power of words. Words, they can inspire, affirm, debase, or hurt. I wish my armor could be made of all the beautiful words in the world, so the negative stuff couldn’t penetrate.