My brother is working on a special project, and he mentioned something that has me thinking about Mama and her books. Mama loved books. She read a lot of different kinds, but mysteries were among her favorites. She also liked novels like “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” and “Salvation at the Dairy Queen”–novels about people and their “real life” struggles and how they worked through them.
But Mama’s very favorite books?
The ones written for children.
Mama loved reading aloud to us as we were growing up. And for the past almost eighteen years, she loved reading to her grandchildren. For my oldest’s first birthday, she got a tire swing in the yard from Daddy and a book and little stuffed kitten from Mama. It’s always been about the books. Mama loved picking out books for different children of the family. It was like a treasure hunt to find just the perfect book for each child. She and Daddy always kept copies of “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” in the trunk of their car. We loved it growing up, and they loved sharing it with children they came across on their day to day journeys.
One of my happiest “Mama reading” memories is her reading “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?” aloud. Her voice was so animated. The best sound was the hippo chewing gum “Grum, grum, grum.” Mama would work her jaw and you just knew that was exactly how it sounded. I also loved hearing her read aloud, “Listen Buddy.” She brought Buddy to life in such a way that you just couldn’t forget the story. And there were so many more.
Mama brought just such books to life for her children and grandchildren and hundreds of elementary schoolchildren over the years. She loved reading aloud at Byron Elementary to many children in grades kindergarten through third. I recently found her storytime plans, complete with booklists and the fun experiments from “Apples, Bubbles, and Crystals: Your Science ABC’s” that she shared each week with the children. It was something she and Daddy enjoyed planning together.
Daddy supported Mama and her love of reading to children. (It’s funny to think that he and I heard her reading out loud to children the same number of years.) He helped her plan her storytimes for the children at the schools by going shopping with her for just the right treats, science experiment materials, and helping her come up with themes and ideas. He even asked me to embroider “Lady Reads-a-lot” on a shirt for her. There was one time when Mama was reading aloud that I really realized the abundance of love Daddy felt for Mama. Daddy wasn’t always vocal about his emotions, but his actions more than let you know how he felt.
One afternoon in October of 2011 I was sitting in the living room with Daddy, who was resting in his hospital bed set up in there. My brother and his family were visiting, so my littles and his were in the “big room” with Mama. She was reading aloud to them. We could hear her voice but not necessarily the words as she read. Daddy was talking and then he grew quiet. He closed his eyes and smiled so big. He opened them and looked at me with so much love on his face it took my breath away. “You hear her? There she goes.” He chuckled softly. He turned his head towards the window and listened. And Mama was off, reading another story with her animated voice. I think it was “Little Red Cowboy Hat,” another family favorite and one that Daddy also loved to read.
I remember that look on his face, and I am thankful for it. Daddy loved Mama with all his heart, and in that moment it shone through every fiber of his being. He was an encourager and pushed Mama to chase her dreams. He knew she was talented and believed in her even when she couldn’t believe in herself. We all should have at least one person like that in our lives, someone whose love for us shines through and who runs alongside us, cheering for us as we go, believing that we can…..and helping us see it through. That’s the best stuff there is–having a cheerleader when you are going for it, a party-thrower when you make it, and a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug you when you don’t.
If you have someone like that, go now and tell ’em you love ’em or give them a big hug or write them a note. Whatever. Just appreciate them and love them right back. Know you are one of the lucky ones. Because you really are.