88: A Teachable Moment

88: A Teachable Moment

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

A Teachable Moment

Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled “This could change your life.”

~Helen Exley

The dog days of summer in Central Texas are hot and humid, and our modest home didn’t have air conditioning. Momma and I were just trying to get through this August afternoon the best we could. Reading helped take our minds off the heat.

Momma was stretched across the sofa, a pillow under her head, reading. The skirt of her thin housedress rippled in the portable fan’s breeze. I sat on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, a curious nine-year-old in shorts sharing the fan’s flow. My book rested on the floor.

I looked at the thin hardcover my mom was reading, Ed Nichols Rode a Horse. A small silhouette of a cowboy on his horse graced the front cover, but otherwise the book appeared plain and unimpressive.

Before I settled, I asked, “Momma, what’s your book about?”

Momma looked over the top of her book, taking a long moment before she answered.

“It’s a story about a man, his horse and the hardships he encountered in Texas. Some of it takes place in Bosque County. Some along the Brazos.”

With that, my mother returned to her story. I knew Bosque County was near where Momma had grown up. And I also knew it was best if I didn’t ask any more questions. My mom took her reading seriously.

We’d been reading for the better part of an hour—the only sounds were the hum coming from the whirling fan and an occasional turn of a page—when I heard something unfamiliar. The sniffling back of tears. Then a sob escaped.

I turned in her direction and saw something I’d never seen before: my mother crying. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She seemed overcome by sadness. Something big—really big must have happened. My mom did not cry. My own face contorted and tears filled my eyes.

“Momma, what’s wrong?” I got up on my knees and leaned over the sofa, staring directly into her face. “Are you all right?”

“Jennifer, I’m fine.” Momma struggled for composure. She sat up and wiped her eyes. “You don’t need to be concerned.”

I wasn’t buying it. This was not normal behavior.

“Why were you crying?” I asked in a whisper. The situation seemed to merit a whisper.

She looked at me hard. “The book made me cry,” she replied.

I was trying to figure out how that plain looking book could make my mostly no-nonsense momma cry when she said the most amazing thing.

“The story made me sad when the horse got hurt.”

That’s when I learned a profound truth: stories affect us. A reader can be transformed and feel strong emotion over something printed on a page. Words had just become very powerful.

I looked into my mom’s eyes. “Momma, could I read your book?”

I held my breath, afraid she’d deny me the right to read such a sad, adult tale. But my mom was a wise woman. She studied me for what seemed a long time.

Finally, she said, “I think you’re old enough to handle it.” Momma handed me her book.

I read Ed Nichols Rode a Horse from cover to cover, and in places I cried just like my mom. The powerful story told on those pages affected me, just like it had my mom. And, the shared reading of it united us. We were unified that hot Texas day over the power of the written word. And from that moment on, I knew what I wanted to become: I wanted to be a writer of stories capable of evoking such compassion and emotion.

What an amazing gift my mom gave me the day she allowed me to see her cry over a story in a book. The way she handled the experience made it a teachable moment in an impressionable, young girl’s life. I wish she were still alive so I could tell her how much that shared lazy summer afternoon has meant to me.

~Jennifer Clark Vihel

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