Monday, May 11, 2015

A Mother's Gift

With the celebration of Mother's Day, my thoughts naturally turn to my own mother who died a year and a half ago. The gifts a mother gives are impossible to sum up, or gratitude for them properly to e express, and, whatever the shortcomings, inadequacies, or failures our mothers have, it is indisputable that we owe them our life and that, however variously shown, they have laid that life down for us in more ways than we know or could comprehend. This truth becomes reality to us most when we become mothers ourselves.

This offering to my mother's memory is only a shred of who she was and what she did for me, but pertains to our efforts on this website to celebrate books and, more importantly, the reading of them. My mother is behind this passion of ours.

For, in casting back to early childhood memories, my mother is of course there. Though I don't have a huge number of distinct memories, I have a few that emerge from the mist of childhood and several of them involve her reading to me. She was a busy, busy woman; I could never hope to imitate her activity level, but will, to my dying day, be thankful that one of the things on her "to do" list was to read to her children. It's about my only memory of her sitting down. It may have only been a responsibility she felt she had, but I'm glad she didn't shirk it, and I believe she enjoyed it as much as we did. I vividly recall my sister and my trundle beds, the pattern of the bedspreads, the pictures on the wall of our room, and her voice lulling us to sleep with Mother Goose. To this day, I can chant dozens of those ancient English ditties.

My grandmother lived in Florida much of the year, but sent us letters with a quarter inside, which, believe it or not, was enough to go to the local "dime store" and purchase a Golden book. My mom would walk us there and help us select one. We had a special small bookcase in our room for this precious collection and I'm sure she read us those stories dozens of times because we had them memorized long before we could read ourselves.

My mother also gave us a very special gift one Christmas. I still remember the picture on the box. It was a set of 24 long-play records packed with recorded children's stories - fairy-tales, legends, and
folk tales. We played them on a turntable (which you may never have heard of) and nearly wore them out, though some survived for me to share with my own children to enjoy 25 years later. I can still bring back to mind the particular voices of the narrators of The Three Bears, Stone Soup, Mike Mulligan, The Biggest Bear, and Cinderella. Hours of rainy or wintry days were filled with wonder for us as we listened and lived inside those stories, playing with toys or acting them out as we did. Thanks to my mother, the delight and truths of those tales were planted in my soul and provided some fertile soil for future thinking, not to mention a thirst for more stories.

As we grew older, the bedtime reading grew from nursery rhymes and A Child's Garden of Verses, to Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Ribsy, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. Though I remember her yawning with fatigue during those nightly sessions, and I know we often drifted off to sleep before the end of a chapter, I also remember it was not always us begging for another chapter, but she who wanted to read "just one more." I know we often wondered aloud why a character was doing what they were doing, or where the story was going to lead, and she was never willing to give her own suggestions for possible reasons. How wise that was, as our curiosity was insatiable and our power to imagine and problem solve was being cultivated. And, by the way, she read aloud to us until we left home.

When babysitters came to stay, the books were part of her parting instructions. Trips to the library were a regular event. Special chores were invented so we could earn money to buy books from the "book club" at school. My mother made books as natural to us as eating and sleeping. Of all the things she did for us, gave us, was to us, I must say that this love of reading was probably the greatest gift she gave us.

Someone has said, "Literature is equipment for living," and it would take more than a brief article to expound upon the truth of that in my life, but just a quick glimpse into my memory bank reveals that the foundations were laid well and the time she took was an investment that has served me superbly.

Let me just add, dear mothers, that no matter how weary your body at the end of your day, no matter how pressed you are for time, you are giving your children an irreplaceable gift when you sit down, open a book, and suggest, "let's read."

For the joy of reading,



  1. Liz,

    This is a beautiful tribute to your mother. I hope my children will say of me that I laid a firm foundation in their lives through my copious reading aloud to them. Like your mother, I find deep delight in snuggling on the sofa with my kids and a book. I think they like it, too :)

    Thanks so much for your posts these past weeks. Though I haven't commented, I have read them all, sometimes more than once, and enjoyed them immensely. I was tickled pink to read that Andrew Peterson had visited your library--we had just finished Monster in the Hollow when that post came into my inbox.

    I so appreciate the ways you encourage me to keep reading to my kids, the books you recommend, your delight in the words and works of Charlotte Mason, and your obvious love of story and language--all of which fills my sometimes empty well and renews my sometimes waning enthusiasm and excitement about homeschooling.

    With gratitude,

    1. Kimberlee,

      I'm glad to hear I can provide support for your mothering and schooling endeavors. Just like a long and tedious book, we endure to the end, and I am thankful to be able to cheer you on when the going is long and unrecognized. Keep on. You can't believe how close you are to the finish line, and the challenges are worth it.