Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thinking rocks

When I was five, we lived in a house with big rocks in the yard. It's not uncommon in the northeastern part of Tennessee to have to deal with such rocks when laying foundations, and many people see them as a nuisance. Our rocks weren't a nuisance to me. They were little mountains mixed in amongst a thin stand of trees and were perfect for climbing and using as rugged terrain for toy cars and trucks. I knew every cliff and valley, and their colors, a mix of grays with little sparkly dots of quartz mixed in, are still fresh in my mind.

Those were my thinking rocks. I spent countless hours with them, sometimes playing pretend, sometimes pulling weeds out of the little crevices full of gravelly sand and dirt, sometimes lying across them in the hot sun. Many of life's mysteries were faced on those mountains.

I distinctly remember one warm afternoon in particular. It was sometime in early elementary school. I don't know now why the thought hit me so hard, I just remember suddenly realizing about written language: that the letters we'd been learning at school formed words, the very words I spoke every day. But none of the symbols made sense. All I could see were straight lines and curvy lines. I knew they meant something, that there was a hidden message, but it was closed to me. No matter how hard I tried to understand, I couldn't. And so, I cried bitterly on the rocks that day, fully sure the mystery of words would never be solved. I remember thinking, "I will never learn to read," just as someone drove by our house and honked. I was so deep in miserable thought, that friendly neighbor passed in a blur of tears without so much as a nod from me. 

My dad must have been watching because the next part of the memory is me crying to him on the porch as I confessed my fears. With a certain twinkle in his eye, he took my concerns very seriously and spoke to me with true wisdom as if the problem at hand were very real, because it was. I wish I could remember his exact words, but I at least remember their spirit:

"Oh, you'll learn to read, babe. You wait and see. You're quick as a whip. You'll learn, you don't have to worry about that. But you'll have to work for it. You can't just get what you want by wanting it. Keep working at it, and you'll see. You'll be reading before you know it."

I believed him. I didn't know how it would happen or how he could know it would, but I believed him. And he was right. One day, it all came together--letters and words and sentences and ideas.

Dad was right about a lot of things. He still is. I did learn. And I keep learning. I bet that's what the twinkle in his eye meant. He knew all along how it would be. First I'd start reading, then I'd start writing, and then who knew the places I'd go.

How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
~ Theodor Seuss Geisel