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.