When Mrs. Lucille Lee taught me how to read in the first grade at the Richards public school, I was so excited I tried to read anything and everything that had words: newspapers, magazines, comic books about Superman or Archie and Jughead, signs and billboards,The Hardy Boys mysteries, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Bobsey Twins in Tulip Land, Cherry Ames, Tom Swift Jr; histories of the adventures of Wyatt Earp, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry the singing cowboy, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, Sam Houston and well, you get the picture.
I asked for extra books to take home from school, and I was the first person on the steps of the Grimes County Bookmobile every month – I always checked out the maximum magic number of four. I read whenever I took a break from playing outside or hid from my mother who routinely expected me to be practicing the piano since she had the unfortunate task of teaching me to play. Do not disturb. I was busy reading. I had left hot humid Grimes County for exotic places like snowy New England to check on my new friends Jo and Amy and Beth and Meg who were even cooler than the Bobsey twins. I cried when Beth died.
One day I read an article entitled How do You Tell Your Child there is no Santa Claus? I was mortified when my mother confirmed that he wasn’t real. I was probably nine years old at the time and had heard rumors at school about it but knew for a fact he was real because I’d seen him on the news on television every Christmas. The news was the ultimate standard-bearer of truth. Now two heroes bit the dust at once: Santa Claus and CBS reporter Dan Rather at KHOU. Shattering. What was left to believe in? Who could be trusted? At least I knew Lucy and Ricky Ricardo would always be together with Fred and Ethel Mertz. I took comfort in that.
Somewhere along the line in the next sixty years reading became less about fun and escape and more about school and studying and work and keeping up with the financial markets which in the waning years of the twentieth century moved at warp speed in a gazillion directions. Reading, for me, moved from printed pages to computer screens and power point presentations. And gradually over my forty years working with numbers in some form or another, I lost my love for words. When I came home at night, the last thing I wanted to do was read.
The vicissitudes of life intervened, as they will according to my daddy, and I fell in love with a woman who loved to read almost as much as she enjoyed playing tennis. We met in her bookstore Bluestocking Books in the early 90s. She had a wonderful feminist bookstore located on Gervais Street in the Vista in downtown Columbia before the Vista was a hot spot and yet, her store became a gathering place for the fledgling LGBT community. My interest in books was immediately revived.
Alas, Bluestocking closed after two and a half years, but my friendship with the owner who was also a passionate lesbian activist remained strong and endured. We were both involved in other long-term personal relationships and weren’t romantically inclined for the next seven years. Strangely, both of our relationships fell apart at the turn of the century, and Teresa the bookstore owner and I got together.
When we bought our first house, we had to have bookshelves built in the living room and her office. That set the precedent for every house since then. Built-in bookshelves, bookcases of every size and description in every room now at Casa de Canterbury in the front house and bookcases lining the rooms of the little back house we call our bodega. Still we had books on the floor, books on every piece of furniture that has a surface – books, books, books. Plus, Teresa read every night. While I watched TV and played poker on a small hand-held game I was addicted to, she read books.
Finally, after six years of being surrounded by books, I decided part of my life was missing. But, the interesting thing is that rather than start reading one of the countless books at my disposal, I took a writing course in December, 2006. Teresa encouraged me and of course, I wanted to do well. I wrote a little story about a revival meeting in my Southern Baptist church where I heard a preacher rant and rave about homosexuals going to hell, and the teacher liked it. Teresa liked it, too, and the cliché “the rest is history” actually applied. That story became the chapter Payday Someday in Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing that was published in November, 2007.
Blogs, books, magazines – once again I have a love affair with words. This time around, though, the words are mine. I write them. I own them. They are sometimes well received by readers, and sometimes they aren’t but they come from a reservoir built steadily by years and years of dams focusing on numbers…until finally the dams broke and the words spilled out. Apparently, I am unable to stop them from tumbling onto a computer screen that sometimes becomes the printed page.
True confessions: I still don’t read much. People often invite me to become their Goodreads friend, and I love the site so I always say yes, but I’m a terrible friend. In spite of that, I started reading the Selected Letters 1955 – 1995 of May Sarton this week because Teresa laid it on our coffee table and because I think May Sarton is one of the best writers of the last century. She happened to be an out lesbian but refused to be called a “lesbian writer.” Whatever the label, she wrote fabulous letters to her friends and family. I wish I had written to her so she could write me back. She religiously answered her mail every day.
Letter writing is a lost art, but I suppose Facebook and other social media render it superfluous. My sense is that blog comments are like mini-letters and I love the interaction with those of you who are my pen pals; I am thankful for every reader. Do not disturb. Somewhere someone is reading.
Thank goodness for the Bluestocking Bookstore owner who continues to inspire my love for words – and for her. I think I should marry that woman. Oops! I forgot. I just did.