When I hear authors and intellectuals say that they cannot remember a time when they could not read, I wonder: a.) don't they carry in their hearts the beautiful memory of parents reading to them as children?; and b.) were they rebooted (dropped on their head) at some point?
I can certainly remember not being able to read. I cherish the memories of my mother reading picture books to me.
My mother would read aloud any text I pointed to. It was probably safer in 1960, especially the supermarket tabloids. I pointed to words in cook books, magazines, newspaper headlines. Later on she would painstakingly parse the phonics of each word; what took the most time was explaining that in English, that's just the way people say it.
I can remember my eyes being just the height of the work surface of the sewing machine cabinet (three and a half years old? four?), and sounding out in my thoughts the word on the sewing machine: "Puh-Fuh-Aa-Fuh-Fuh?" Over and over again, and finally saying it that way out loud. Mom laughed. "No, it just sounds like 'Faff' -- it's a German name." Then the explanation that not is spelling weird and arbitrary in English, but also in other languages.
The first week of first grade, the teacher went through the first five letters of the alphabet. She ended with a smile and, "Does anybody have any questions?" My little hand was the only one that went up. "I can already read," I explained sadly, "When are we going to learn how to SPELL?!" The teacher may have been a little shocked or disbelieving when she said, "That comes later." But by the end of the second week I was enjoying two reading lessons a day. First some private (get-out-of-my-hair-you-ask-too-many-questions) reading time (I got to go to the third grade classroom to borrow books). But also reading to the other kids, and tutoring the slow ones. In the first grade.
At some point I was so glad to be learning to spell that I invented the game of spelling all my thoughts to myself. And of trying to spell out to myself what the teacher was saying. Especially good as an exercise when the speaker is particularly boring and pedantic.
I learned Greek to a certain extent when I was in college. Ever since Greek, I can't trust my alphabet. "A-B-C-D-E-F-G-Zeta-Eta-Theta-Iota-Kappa-Lambda... Wait a minute..." I also learned in college that writing that you care about takes a lot of work. This year I am trying to convince myself that writing can be play. Like my spelling-it-all-out game, but for somewhat-more-grownups. Perhaps in the course of blogging away, I will accidentally "spell out" some thoughts in a way I (and you) can understand.
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