Sunday, May 17, 2015

"I Know You Again Because You Read to Me"


Who are the people in your life that have most influenced your love of the written word?  Are they family members?  Friends?  Teachers?  Librarians?  For me, three people come immediately to mind: my mom, my dad, and my paternal grandmother.  All of them love books.  A recent trip back to the Motherland (the beautiful Columbia River Gorge) made me reflect on my grandma, especially, and how our shared love of reading and writing has influenced and strengthened our relationship.  I don't often get personal on this blog, but I hope you won't mind if I share a little something about what I learned from her this last weekend.  

Grandma, who's been a widow for over two decades, once told me that she would never be bored or lonely as long as she had something good to read.  One of the hardest parts of aging, for her, has been the loss of her eyesight.  For a few years now, she's been too weak to hold a book, let alone read one.  Last week, on her birthday, someone asked her to describe in one word what it was like to be 100 years old.  She said, "Difficult.  I can no longer read.  I can no longer write.  I'm not the person I used to be."  I think this says a whole lot about the importance of reading and writing, not just in her life, but in all of ours.

My grandma and I used to bond all the time over our shared love of books and writing.  Sadly, she can no longer remember those conversations.  She can't remember me.  During my three day visit, I had to remind her every 15 minutes or so of what my name was, who my parents were, and that yes, we were in fact related.  These exchanges were sad and sometimes bizarre, but also hysterical.

On Mother's Day, my younger brother and I had the privilege of grandma-sitting while my parents, her primary caregivers, went out to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  Not surprisingly, my bookworm of a grandma enjoys it when people read aloud to her.  When I assured her it would be my pleasure to spend the evening performing that task, she settled in her bed to listen to the mystery novel my parents were in the middle of reading to her.  For two hours straight, I read.  I read until the words on Dad's Kindle blurred and my already sore throat felt raw and achy.  After about an hour, Grandma fell asleep, her mouth wide open as she snored.  When I paused, thinking I should sneak away and let her rest, she jolted upright and exclaimed, "This is such a good book!"  I kept reading.

In her old age, my grandmother has grown very paranoid about being left alone.  She kept telling me that she thought she would be really scared with "the kids" (meaning my parents) gone, but that, since I was reading to her, she didn't feel frightened.  A little later, I was explaining to her how much I loved to read and write.  She said, "We have so much in common!  I'm glad to meet you."  I chuckled and reminded her that we've known each other for almost forty years.  "If you say so, honey," she replied, "but now I know you again because you read to me."

The two hours I spent reading to my grandmother are precious to me.  I cherish the fact that we were able to get reacquainted (even if I had to re-introduce myself to her a few more times the next morning) because we shared that experience.  It wasn't the book that was so good, but the company.

Grandma's words made me think about the power of reading together, be it a parent to a child (I can't count the number of times I've shared classics like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Green Eggs and Ham with my kiddos), an older sibling to a younger sibling (as a teenager, my husband spent many nights reading Jurassic Park to his wide-eyed little brother), a wife to a husband (my mom used to read Jack Weyland books aloud to my dad while he drove on family road trips), or a granddaughter to a cherished grandmother.  That time spent together is special, valuable, the stuff of which fond memories are made.  What could be better than stolen moments like these when we're wrapped in the warmth of the love we share and bound together by the kind of magical spell only a story well-told can cast?  If you don't read to your children, do.  Start today.  Right now.  And if your grandmother needs a little help to feast on the written word she loves so well, help her out.  Maybe she can't remember your name, but she'll know you again because you read to her.  What could be more priceless than that?  In the immortal words of Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold; 
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you could never be—
I had a mother [father/sibling/spouse/granddaughter] who read to me.  
  

9 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, Susan! I sit here with tears reading your sweet, sweet post about your grandmother. Such a lovely memory for you. You will treasure in times to come and you'll be glad you wrote about it. I love that poem about a mother (or whomever) reading to a child/anyone. My mother, who was not a book lover herself, read to me as a small child and taught me to read at the age of 4. After that point, she stopped reading to me and I took off on my own journey. I read to my siblings and especially to my own daughter. Precious times. I think you make a very important point about loved ones and making the most of the moment. It didn't matter if she remembered you or not - it was the reading the made the bridge. Hugs to you! Again, thanks for sharing with us.

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  2. Very beautiful, Susan. I can't imagine losing my ability to read. I love it so much. I love that you took the time to read to your grandmother and that's all she remembered you by. It speaks very highly of her love of the written word.

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  3. What a lovely post. I am so glad you go to share that with your Grandmother. I read to my kids all the time. I love it. No one in my family is a big reader but me so I hope that changes with my kids. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. I love this post! I know now that you will never regret going back for this 100th birthday celebration even if Peggy could not remember you. Books are a gift as is the spoken word. You are so often the giver.

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  5. Wonderful. One of my favorite posts of all time. I hope I am leaving the same love of reading legacy to my children.

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  6. What a sweet post! Thanks, Susan!

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  7. This post is so lovely, Susan, and melancholy, and yet so hopeful and meaningful! I love what your grandmother said here: "now I know you again because you read to me."

    Those are powerful and very wise words.

    Big hugs!

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  8. What a sweet story! I hope when my sight goes I'll have someone to read to me. Oh, how hard that must be!

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  9. This is a beautiful post. I can see why you treasure your relationship with your grandmother so much, and I you continue to feel that bond. It's an amazing thing to have :)

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