The Love of Language

One year ago today, my Mom passed away.  Her name was Pamela Jane (Mulligan) Misener.  This week’s posts are for her.

My Mother was old school in many ways.  She didn’t approach motherhood as if it had a
job description (‘…facilitate the development of happy, confident, contributing members of society’), and she didn’t operate with a stiff plan (‘step 1 – ensure proper parent/child bonding’).  She simply figured it out as she went along.  I’m sure that there were many things that she set out to teach me, but what I remember most when I think of my mother now, are the lessons she taught without necessarily intending to.

The tiny St. Paul Avenue branch library in Brantford, was a place my Mother and I visited every week as far back as I can remember.  I began in the children’s picture book section and in time graduated to chapter books; my favourite was the “B is for Betsy” series by Carolyn Haywood.  I can still recall getting a lump in my throat when Betsy left her beloved plaid book bag on the garden wall and discovered it was gone by the time she remembered to retrieve it.

My Mother loved mysteries, especially Agatha Christie, but I saw her choose lots of different kinds of books over the years.  An entire wall of  our basement was filled with hardcover books my Mother had collected over the years and she read them again and again.  They included classics like Gone with the Wind, The Godfather and Roots, as well as reference books, Robert Mitchum best sellers, and an enormous collection of Reader’s Digest condensed books.

When my Mother wasn’t reading, she was doing crossword puzzles.  Every week, she would dive into our local newspaper’s Cryptic Crossword.  After days of puzzling on her own, she would share and compare answers with her cousin Nancy over the telephone.  As a toddler, one of us children made the mistake of calling it the ‘creepy crossword’ and both my mother and Nancy agreed that it was indeed quite creepy.  From then on, we all referred to it as the Creepy Crossword.

While I was growing up, my mother never watched TV during the day, so I suppose it wasn’t until Wheel of Fortune became a prime time phenomenon that she began watching it.  My Dad and I found it incredibly annoying that she would shout out the answer to the puzzle so early in the game, often with only one letter on the board and
sometimes with none.  One day, we asked her to stop doing this so that it wouldn’t spoil the guessing for the rest of us, so instead she began whispering under her breath: “I know what it is!”  It didn’t take long for us to ask her to go back to giving the whole answer.

Several months ago, Craig and I were watching ‘The Wheel’ with our kids.  There were only two letters on the board when I called out: “Sing a song of sixpence!”

“Way to go, Pam,” Craig said.

Parents today are told that reading is essential to a child’s development.  The education experts threaten that if your kid doesn’t read well, they will eventually struggle in all of the other subjects.  And so, fostering a love of reading is one of the ‘duties’ listed in today’s unwritten but widely accepted, Motherhood job description.

Our school issues Read at Home logbooks to track each child’s mandatory daily reading.  This year, Jack’s grade four  class is also required to fill in a bar graph to capture the different kinds of ‘text’ they are reading.  The categories include magazines, newspapers, instructions and research books, along with the standard novels and picture books.  There is also a column for ‘other,’ whatever the heck that is.  During the month of September, all of Jack’s reading has been in the picture book / graphic novel section except for one tick in the ‘other’ column.  I suppose he used this to count the night he spent groaning over gross pictures in his Guiness Book of World Records book.  As much as I wish I didn’t, I feel some pressure to get a more even distribution of check marks across the various categories during October.  I’m just not sure I’m going to find anything in The Oakville Beaver or my Chatelaine magazine that will interest him.

Somehow my Mother was able to foster a love of reading in all three of her children without the pressure of graphs and tick boxes.   And for that I am forever thankful.


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