Like many who have been sheltering at home during this time of COVID-19, I have been reading and reading and READING! I have several library books on hand, my Kindle fully loaded and a bookcases full of great books that I used when I taught English 20-plus years ago.
Reading has always been part of my life. I recall a summer class I took through The Haystack Program in the Arts and Sciences through PSU. It was taught by award-winning poet, teacher and author Judith Barrington. "Writing from your roots" was the class title. One assignment was to explore a time when we were first introduced to reading and talk about a book that captivated us.
This is the piece I wrote that I want to share with readers:
Miss Lewis addressed the fifth grade class from behind a massive carved oak desk in front of the library. We sat at long tables between bookcases yielding musty smells of history, tales of long ago.
"Today I will begin reading aloud to you a marvelous story," she said, folding back the cover of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden." Her hands smoothed the paper and she began to read in a husky expressive voice, full of promise of adventure and secret things. As her voice transported me, I watched her hands; they were slender and long, fingers tapering to painted nails which moved and danced rhythmically as she turned pages, adjusted bracelets, and smoothed the sleeves of her dress.
I sat mesmerized by this experience, as much for the way the story was being told as the story itself. Oh, the wretched pale young girl in the story held something for me – not that I saw myself in her exactly, but for the fact that she was capable of redemption. Her unhealthy pallor and stuck-up personality were transformed each day as Miss Lewis continued to read chapter by chapter day by day throughout the semester.
I learned about enthrallment through the readings. I learned perseverance and movement in small increments. I learned of transformation and regeneration. The words fell from her lips and were met with my eagerness to understand, to learn more, to enter the secret garden of my soul. Day after day, we heard new installments which I never tired of. Nor did I tire of her voice which so lovingly lingered over descriptions, and so artfully presented dialogue. Seeds were planted then in me to continue to read, to teach, to love the written word.
Miss Lewis was Dante's Beatrice. I think I fell in love with books then when I entered Paradiso with Miss Lewis as my guide.
Jacquelyn Gatewood is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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