My love of reading grew out of my uncertain childhood following my father’s death and my mother’s hand amputation… due to bone cancer. I just remember always hearing adults talk softly around my brothers and me if mother’s name came up in the conversation…shaking their heads sadly…and then putting on big smiley faces for all of us.
I knew deep down something wasn’t right and I was terrified…daddy had gone to a hospital (Duke) and never returned and now mother was in a hospital…would she ever come back or go to where daddy was?
My first grade teacher didn’t have to prompt me to learn to read…I devoured every children’s book, library book, or magazine I could get my hands on. Even back then…I knew enough about the world to know that books didn’t lie to you and tell you everything would be okay and then it wasn’t..a book would not betray you or change its mind or make you feel dumb. You could be anybody you liked inside a story…with just a little imagination. I felt more at home here than in reality.
Looking back on those childhood memories…my admiration for grandmother only increases…she had just lost her husband, her son-in-law and her youngest child, mother, was facing a serious cancer surgery resulting in amputation at a time in the fifties when the percents of recovery from cancer weren’t good . Of course there was a lot of discussion going on….grown-ups’ whispering about the“What if’s.”
Grandmother Wilson had this one book that looked as “old as Methuselah.” The title was The Once and Future King.“It was torn and tattered and certain passages had been underlined by grandmother who used the book when she teaching school. One line that had stars by it -was apparently her favorite passage.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, is to learn something new. That is the only thing that never fails.”
I soon found out why she had it marked and on her bed side table…she was going to help me learn something new…to get my mind off of mother and what she was going through.
I was six by then…and the “new” …. was a bicycle that was very old and kept losing its chain. It had belonged to one of my cousins who loaned it to her. It was too big for me…but that didn’t deter her.
I still remember that grandmother would finish her morning chores…go to the barn, get the bike and call me over for another lesson.
If anyone is not familiar with our state’s terrain…then you might not understand that red clay is the soil found in the Piedmont…the kind that takes double scrubbing to get off clothes and bodies.
I had so many band aids on my knees and ankles and elbows…it was almost hilarious…well funny to everyone else but me. My uncle would come in, take one look, and smile…“Still haven’t quite got that bike down yet, huh Becky?”
Grandmother would shoot him a warning look and respond” “Oh we are close, really close to riding a bike…aren’t we Becky? I would simply nod…and wonder if there were enough band aids left in the world .
The funniest part of the lesson would be when poor Grandmother would get on the bike to show me how to do it…there was a dirt , red clay road that lead from her house to my Uncle Herschel’s store. One day she was slowly riding the bike a few yards ahead of me to try to demonstrate the technique when the front wheel hit a stone in the road and sent the bike spinning out of control.
Grandmother had just uttered the words, “Now see how easy it is Becky…you try it again.”
The bike went one way and grandmother the other…she had red clay in her hair, on her face, arms, and legs…sputtering clay and dirt from her mouth. Frantically she was yelling at me to find her glasses…nothing was worse than losing or breaking one’s eye glasses back then. They were dirty…but not broken.
Grandmother tripped trying to get the bike off her…I tried to grab her hand and we all went down in a heap…it was then when that wonderful woman started laughing…the harder she laughed…the funnier the situation became.
It was later that afternoon that I rode a bike, by myself, for the first time.
The passage in the book was and is right…if one is sad…you must learn something new to take your mind off of it….that night I got two bowls of peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Unforgettable!
So until tomorrow…“Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” (Mary Oliver)
Mandy sent me pictures from the Holy City Drive-in on Patriot’s Point…I am thinking to myself I would enjoy it without a movie…just looking at the beauty of the sun setting off the U.S.S.Yorktown.