While most of my blog entries are about hikes and paddles and treks, every now and then it is about something else. Today I write about the fact I love to read and write. That my father instilled in me a love for, and pride for my ability, to read. He always did the children’s crossword puzzle in the Sacramento Bee with me as a small child and then monthly word power quizzes from The Reader’s Digest. Seems silly to say out loud. Doesn’t it. That a person would be proud of being able to read well and talk about that pride in their 50s. And I loved to read so much I wanted to write stories like I read.
We were a very verbal and expressive household. Dad told epic tales of growing up in Bellingham in the countryside. Imagination stimulants like how he helped an old guy with frozen up hips with his honey bees. Dad loved honey bees all his life and always swore bee venom helped alleviate arthritis pain. Mom told of growing up in a logging camp and being shy and not liking to read out loud at school because she lisped and got teased. But man when she sat down at the piano and banged out the chords for a good old rendition of Cool Water there was no shyness and no lisp! Kathlene always wanted to do roll playing games when we were tiny tots. But she made up her dialog and mine. I was happy enough to just go along with it.
Brother Joe wrote on the school paper and was a great story teller, even if he did laugh so hard half the time that you had to wait impatiently with baited breath to really find out what he was saying.
I went to Sunny Terrace Elementary School in Seattle. What stands out is fourth grade. First was a fun time, but second and third were sort of hard. I didn’t quite feel connected with the teachers. Mrs. Hergert had been my first grade teacher and I suppose I got used to her and wanted it to remain the same. I am not good at change. But second grade dished up Mrs. Wilcox. She was tall and stern and seemed removed. Mrs. Mansburger from third grade was mean and didn’t like my hand writing so she put it up on the bulletin board as an example…of bad work. The only good thing about that was it caused a legendary appearance by my mother, who walked into the room unannounced during a lesson. She walked right over to the bulletin board. The class was by then completely quiet aside from Mrs. Mansburger having offered “Can I help you?” Mom reached up and removed my scarlet letter….and Mark Lawrence’s too just for good measure. She turned, looked across the tiny heads of riveted third graders and proclaimed “And I never want to see Karen’s work on the board again unless it is because it is the best.” With that, she turned on the heel of her shiny pump with her back combed hair and perfectly coordinated outfit and was gone. After that it was instant celebrity! When she came on to the school property, all the kids were in awe.
After the long summer between 3rd and 4th grade, we all piled into our new status as a member of the “upper grades”. My class was to be in the far end building right next to Mrs. Cole’s class. My sister was in Mrs. Cole’s class so I had the comfort of help being in proximity in case I needed it. I had a new teacher. Her name was Mrs. Reeder. Linda Reeder. She was young and tall and pretty and had this yellow dress that I will never forget. But she also had all this really “cool stuff” for us to do with reading. We had a reading comprehension module called SRA and were challenged to read as many books as we could and do projects after each one; dioramas, reports….more that I cannot remember. I can still smell the class room on a rainy day holed up with my book, dreaming of my post book project and wondering what book to read next. I was president of the Matt Christopher fan club as well as the Beverly Cleary fan club. I read all the “Trick” books (The Limerick Trick, The Home Run Trick etc.) I even got a letter back from the author Scott Corbett when I wrote after reading one of those books. Yes, that was a choice too, write to the author.
Mrs. Reeder remains famous around the Whelan house. Back in 1970 teachers hand wrote their report cards. There was a place on each one for comments, which I was always most interested in reading. Upon receiving my card I burst into the house filled with excitement, smile from ear to ear for inside was THIS little gem: “Karen has the gift of gab.” A higher compliment I could not receive. More proud I could not be. In a family as expressive as mine I had come into my own. With a father now known as The Watch Maker because when you asked him what time it was he told you how to build the watch, I had the GIFT of gab. GIFT! My parents were kind enough not to burst my bubble and let me in on the truth, which was that I talked to much and as a result was a bit of an interruption for the teacher. And here I am over 40 years later working in a profession that requires me to gab and write and express. Thank you Mrs. Reeder, for letting me be me and find all the expression I needed!