A Magic Carpet Ride
When I was growing up, life was a set of rigid rules and expectations. Until I was eight years old, bedtime was 7:30 p.m. and increased in one-hour increments over the years to 10:00 p.m. when I reached high school. Dinner was on the table at 5:30 and, unless one had a dinner invitation to a friend’s house, nothing save a death certificate was an acceptable reason for not showing up clean and groomed.
At the table, I was expected to mind my manners. Family etiquette demanded that discussions be not the least bit interesting to a child. My sisters and I could not talk about what Jimmy Smith did with his armpit or how Shanda Lear threw up after being pushed too high on the swings. A phrase my parents used often was “Children should be seen and not heard.” I could never quite decide if the phrase was something quoted because it was believed or because it was something cruelly gifted to my parents from theirs.
This learning to be seen and not heard had a profound impact on me then and now. It has shaped who I am in a very real way by making me a spectator of life. (I am still more comfortable watching things happen around me than actually joining the fray. I tend to look for safety until I feel secure.) And I believe it was one of the important factors of my life that made me a passionate reader. It is a gift my parents unwittingly gave me, a gift for which I will be forever grateful.
I don’t remember learning to read, but I do remember the moment when I realized I could. I was six years old. I had been sent to my room on a warm sunny afternoon after school, punished for some childhood infraction. Watching the dust motes float in the sunbeams became boring. Looking around, I saw the little golden book with a tan puppy on the cover. I picked it up to look at the pictures and found myself reading the words—something I had never done before. The sudden realization that I was “reading” hit me so hard I dropped the book. I stared at it for a few moments before I reached down, picked it up reverently and hugged it to my chest, laughing and crying at the same time. I wanted to open my door and shout, “I can read, I can read!” to the world. It was at that moment that I became a successful child in my house. I could be seen and not heard, and yet not bored and fidgety.
Being able to read meant freedom, freedom that was heady and exciting. I no longer felt strange and disconnected from other people. There were people just like me in places far away who thought interesting things and wrote about them. And now I could be one of them.
I was allowed to bicycle or walk to the park, woods, library or the curb out in front of the house as long as I was back in time for supper. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite things was to go to the library. I would check out a book on birds or bugs, then take it to the park where I lifted up rocks or stared at trees to see if the insects and birds matched the pictures, trying to learn everything I could about them.
But my learning did not come solely from books. I was so curious about the larger world and the people in it that I even read newspapers left behind on park benches or in front of downtown stores. I loved reading the comics and the Ann Landers column with letters from people I thought for sure could not be real.
Reading turned my life around. Living became magical and almost ethereal once I learned how to read. I was no longer restrained by the leash of forced quiet. Inside a book or a newspaper, the world was vibrant, interesting and dynamic, and I was now part of it. Reading a book has and continues to be as close as I can come to riding a magic carpet.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at