92: A Love of Words

92: A Love of Words

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

A Love of Words

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.

~Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I can still remember my mother’s voice as she read the opening line of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” I was nine or ten years old. She, my sister and I were settled comfortably in our den—Mom and my sister on the couch and me sprawled out on the floor with a pillow. As Mom read the cherished story about four sisters, I let my imagination carry me away. I could almost imagine I was there with the March girls, living in Orchard House, acting out plays and wondering if Aunt Josephine was really as mean as she sounded. The memories of that special time are imprinted on my heart and have influenced me throughout my life.

Mom was an elementary school teacher, so books were dear friends to her. I was the youngest of five children so our house was full of books by the time I arrived. Dad and Mom were both voracious readers, devouring books about American history, Christian life, and World War II, in which Dad was particularly interested since he’d been a turret gunner on a B-17 bomber over Europe. We kids had a bookcase practically overflowing with children’s books. One of my earliest memories is of visiting a bookstore in downtown Santa Fe, right on the famous Plaza. It must have been during the holiday season because Christmas books lined the children’s display area, and I begged Mom to buy me the book Santa Mouse. I still have it to this day.

When my siblings and I celebrated a birthday, we could always count on receiving a new book. Books sat under the Christmas tree many years as well, and even a trip to the grocery store might yield the newest Little Golden Book. Garage sale finds included sets of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, which provided hours of imaginary adventures. Being a teacher, Mom was like a kid in a candy store when the new Scholastic catalog arrived. She ordered books for herself, for her classroom, for us, and she always ordered a book to give to each of her students for Christmas.

Mom had always read us bedtime stories, usually letting my sister and me each choose a book, but the summer Mom read Little Women to us is a particularly treasured memory. Even though we were both old enough to read the story ourselves, there was nothing like listening to the sound of Mom’s voice rising and falling, using different tones for different characters, and laughing at the antics of Jo and the others. When her voice would grow hoarse, she would close the book, much to our disappointment. “We’ll read more tomorrow, girls,” she’d say, giving us something to look forward to. When we finally came to the end of the book, none of us wanted our special time together to end. So Mom read Ms. Alcott’s next book, Little Men, and then another and another, until the summer drew to a close and school began again.

Many years later I continued the tradition with my two sons. Some of the very same books that lined my shelves as a child now lined theirs. Every night, I allowed them each to choose a book for me to read aloud. Even after they were old enough to read on their own, we enjoyed sharing some special reading time, including the summer I read them every book in The Littles series, a favorite of their grandma’s.

Because my parents taught me from a young age to appreciate the written word and storytelling, it wasn’t a big surprise when I found I enjoyed writing stories, too. I’d been a fan of Christian fiction for many years, with bulging bookshelves of my own, but I’d never envisioned myself as an author until one day a story popped into my head and simply would not go away. Characters became real people in my imagination, much like they had back when Mom read aloud to me. When I shared my newfound dream of becoming a writer, Mom was all for it. “I’m proud of you, honey,” she said when my first magazine article was published.

Mom passed away in May 2013 after a courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The dreaded illness stole her memory of the people she loved and the life she’d enjoyed, but many times I’d find her sitting in her bedroom holding an open book in her lap. The pages rarely got turned and her focus wouldn’t remain long enough to understand what she was reading, but the love of the written word was so strong in her that even Alzheimer’s couldn’t destroy it.

After Mom and Dad were both gone, we had to sell the family home. I kept many of the books that belonged to my parents, finding comfort in their familiar spines and covers. A flash of memory of Dad sitting in his chair reading or Mom surrounded by her grandchildren with an open storybook brings me much joy.

Thank you, Mom, for sharing your love of words with me.

~Michelle Shocklee

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