Richer than me you will never be for I had a mother who read to me.
That sentiment was written on a little refrigerator magnet Husband brought along with him when we got married. It had been a gift from his mother, and it’s still proudly displayed on our icebox. He and I were lucky that way — to have parents who read to us.
Tomorrow, March 2, is Read Across America Day, which always falls on or around the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss. It’s purpose is to get younguns across the country fired up about reading and motivated to read on their own. Just like our parents did for us.
Husband remembers his mother reading to him. There was Dr. Seuss, of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and all sorts of Little Golden Books like The Pokey Little Puppy and The Little Red Hen. If ever there was a kid in whom a love of reading was instilled by a mama, it was him. An avid reader as a child, he still reads a lot. All the time. Everything he can get his hands on.
Mama read me the Beatrix Potter books too, and lots of Richard Scarry, plus Grimm’s Fairy Tales — the original ones that were really, truly grim where Rapunzel’s eyes get gouged out by thorns, a wicked stepmother is put in a barrel stuck full of nails and rolled to her death, and where ogres hide under the bridge. The grimmer the better, as far as I was concerned.
We also read books of poems that we still recite to this day. Books like Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes, where we learned
Dilly dilly Piccalilli,
Tell me something very silly.
I met a man. His name was Burt.
He ate the buttons off my shirt.
Mister Lister sassed his sister.
Married his wife because he couldn’t resist her.
Three plus four times two he kissed her.
How many times is that, dear sister.
Then there was a book of funny rhymes called A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me, which featured classics like
Moll in the wad and I fell out,
What do you think it was about?
I gave her a shilling, she swore it was bad:
“It’s an old soldier’s button,” says Moll in the Wad.
(Don’t ask me what a “wad is.)
And we rarely eat a meal without saying
I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny,
But it keeps them on my knife.
And you can’t forget the title poem
As I was standing in the street
As quiet as could be,
A great big ugly man came up
And tied his horse to me.
(You have to see the illustrations to really appreciate that one!)
One of our favorites was Edward Lear’s The Jumblies.
They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
There’s a whole lot more, but that’s all I can remember right off the bat. We still recite this and the other funny poems from these books almost every time we get together.
This may sound strange, but I think I can remember just about the exact moment when I learned to read. I was sitting on Daddy’s lap in his big 70s gold chair watching his finger trace the lines in a book as he read it to me. It was probably, actually and ironically, a Dr. Seuss book because I remember us reading a lot of Dr. Seuss together. While watching him point at every word as he said it, it dawned on me, all of a sudden like, that they matched what he was saying. That my, friends, is reading.
But not everyone is as fortunate as Husband and me to have parents who taught us and read to us, who reinforced in us a love of literature and learning, who had the extra time to spend reading together with us. In fact, there are more than 92,000 adults in Central Alabama alone who cannot read or who can barely read. That’s why this year for Read Across America Day, I am making a donation to The Literacy Council of Central Alabama in honor of my parents and my husband’s parents.
So tomorrow, as you eat your green eggs and ham and wear a funny hat and hack out a few rhyming parodies, think about giving the gift of reading to your neighbors, and then they’ll have a chance to be as rich as you are.