Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Legacy, A Children’s Library for my children and their children.

“Coriander lifted the gossamer shadow out of the Girl Scout cookie box because the science fair was this Thursday and she’d lost her swimming goggles.”

What did I just read? Aha! I was “sleep reading” aloud to my children at bedtime. Ever done that? It’s like talking in your sleep but you’re not quite asleep. Instead, you’re wringing out what’s left of the day’s wet fabric of consciousness to drop a few more words into a bucket of bedtime stories. This is all fine by morning because you have a strong ally in coffee. You are so on your own at night.

My daughter Poet was begging for the bonus chapter. “Wait and see what happens next” didn’t stand a chance. Her curiosity was bordering on torture. Can Social Services be summoned for failure to read an extra chapter? Can authors be sued for being so talented and suspenseful?

Little Pie, cuddled close to me in slumber on the bottom bunk. I could forfeit that chapter finale, cozy up to Pie, smell her breath, and fall asleep. It was deliciously warm and toasty in her bed. But, I gave my word as an over-achieving reader. Besides, Poet, kept demanding “Read!” from the top bunk.

I’ve been reading chapter books to Poet since she was two. We started with My Father’s Dragon. I went eighty pages first round with Poet hanging on every word. Laryngitis nearly caught up with me. But, my mustang vocal cords eventually broke in and I became the Pony Express of bedtime reading. Poet and I’d gallop into the night, into the wilds of unexplored chapters, and return home half asleep in the saddle. Sometimes we took three-hour rides. Really.

Reading to children is better than therapy. It’s remarkable how deep this simple act fills the most basic of human needs of comfort. If I ever find retirement, be assured I’ll be reading to children.

Reading has taken me all over this world and has several dimensions in time. I was hanging with miners, specifically Baby Doe Tabor, in nineteenth century Colorado when it happened.

A fledgling driver ran a stop sign and struck my Pathfinder en route home from the grocery store. It’s one booger of a story. I figure good things must be born from bad so I started looking for my Phoenix in the mess of that wreckage.

I started thinking about legacy. We all leave one whether we plan on it or not. If you’re naughty, you might leave a legacy of yelling, drinking too much, being unavailable, in denial or never saying two essential words of “I’m sorry.” If you’re nice, you might leave one of Orange Nehi while sitting on a dock fishing on a hot and ridiculously muggy Sunday afternoon or tumbling around on the floor after dinner and playing Jungle and playing the tiger. You can provide safe harbor and live in a house that smells like cake. Realize it or not, you’re leaving one now.

This accident gave me a Mild Traumatic Brain injury, which put me in a state where I couldn’t make sense of things. For the first few months, I couldn’t read. Eventually I learned to live in the moment of a single sentence, forget it, and move on to the next. I started reading to my daughters again. They were enthusiastic memory banks. We’d begin by recapping the previous night’s read.

But, independent reading remained elusive. In search I went to the classics. Huckleberry Finn was confusing; even though I knew the story and loved the vernacular so much I could breathe it. The start and stop chapters of nonfiction worked, but the concentration gave me headaches. That sounds melodramatic. But my injuries mustered headaches from watching snow fall. Over stimulation happened quickly and spiraled into headaches leaving me helpless for hours, sometimes days. It was like long storms of sheet lightening in my brain.

Then one night it happened. I lie in my bed wishing for that extra chapter. So, I snuck in to my daughter’s room and read it while they slept. The next thing I knew I was independently reading the next book in queue. So, I switched gears to the 8-12 year old reading level. Who cares that it was several literary levels below the adolescent who plowed his mother’s car into me. I was reading! Say that just like Forrest Gump said, “I was running!”

Piles of children’s books began to grow in my daughter’s room, my office, and my bedroom. Books were all over the house, which is quite a statement considering that I hate clutter. But, I was building my legacy, a children’s library. I spray mounted paper pockets and date cards bought at an educational supply store. I laminated book jackets to help them endure time; a trick I learned from Poet’s first grade teacher.

At my request, my dad built bookshelves out of old barn wood from my grandfather’s farm. The farm with the fish pond with the dock and frog pond where we picked wild gooseberries, hunted for morels, and rode on the green tractor built the year I was born.

Those bookshelves are now full and once again there are piles of books about the house. Many of the piles are new arrivals to our home. Some are books pulled from the shelves by my daughters and left in the places where they read them. If if we must have clutter, I guess book clutter isn’t so bad.

I hope that someday, a child will pick up a book, look at its date card, see the generations before them, and take a new night’s ride out into an old story. We’ll never know what our legacies will be because we will not be there to define them. But, we can make a choice to start the beginnings of that definition.


  1. I would love to see a picture of the date cards that you are using and better understand how you are using them. I'm also building a library for my kids - most of the books are, of course, thrifted - and I'm intrigued by the system you are using. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a delightful story. Will there be another chapter?

  3. Oh Sherry,

    Thank you.

    The library has been a source of interest to many children. They are attracted to the books. When I gift books I put a date card in, extra touches do add up.

    The second chapter is still in works as I go about life trying to define and understand myself in an altered state. What I wouldn't give for a true compass as mine seems to have broken.

    But, there is always comfort in books. I recently read The Witch of Blackbird Pond again and felt the same contentment I did the last time I read the final page.

    The girls are older now. Little Pie now likes to read her own book so we sit in bed together and each read our own. Then it's lights out. At least we still cuddle.