When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a cattle ranch in Central Texas. It was close enough to Midland that we went to visit regularly. Every holiday, spring break and summer, too. Like all the other men in my family, my brother worked there on those visits, herding cattle, feeding cows, running the tractor, panting fences and pens.
As a girl, and the last granddaughter, I didn’t have to do any of that. I went shopping with my Mamo at the M&M Shop in Brownwood, helped her with the groceries at Piggly Wiggly, watered plants. But mostly, I remember playing. She had this incredibly green, thick Bermuda grass in her yard. Bermuda has that incredible ability to be ticklish and prickly at the same time, and I loved to be barefoot in it. When I wasn’t outside, I loved to spend time digging through her game closet. It’s where all the toys and books and games she collected for her grandkids were housed.
The grands passed lots of time with the game closet. Games were not my thing. My brother regularly beat me playing Battleship, my cousin Reagan beat everyone when we played the marble game Wahoo. And I lacked the patience and hand-eye coordination to be the stellar coloring artist my cousin Shawn was. My favorite things in the game closet were the books. My Mamo had a great collection of Little Golden Books. I loved the “Little Red Hen,” “We Like Kindergarten” and “The Poky Little Puppy.”
But my favorite was always “My Little Golden Storybook About God.” The illustrations by Eloise Wilkin resonated with me. There was just something magical about the scenes she created. Pudgy fingers, soft round cheeks, sweet-faced animals. Flowers and green, green grass like my Mamo’s. I could spend hours just staring at the pictures, fantasizing about having a daisy chain headband of my very own.
My sweet daughter Bodacious loves to look at pictures in books, too. She started first grade this year, and at 6, is still not reading. She knows her letters and sounds, mostly, but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of putting it all together. I am trying my best to not compare her to her brother, who started reading chapter books in kindergarten and at 9 reads on a high school level.
But, man, if you believe all the hype, a child who doesn’t read by kinder is probably going to run away and join the circus. Forget high school and college, and you can kiss the dream of having an independent, happy adult child goodbye. Because he or she will probably be in prison.
I was wailing to my mother about it a few weeks ago, demanding that she drop everything and come teach her grand-daughter to read. My mother used to teach English and reading back in the day. She thinks I am being ridiculous. She pointed out that Bodacious has pre-reading skills and likes books. She then gently suggested that I spend more time actually reading to my darling daughter instead of worrying about her.
I will admit, I don’t read to her as often as I should. But, that’s an easy fix. The Hubs and I have committed to reading to her every night before bedtime. So I was thrilled when I found a copy of “My Little Golden Storybook About God” at a resale shop recently. I hadn’t thought about that game closet or those books in years. Losing my dad this year has made me miss my childhood more, and when I opened the book, all those old memories came flooding back to me. Even the way the closet always smelled, a little closed up with red dirt, old paper and Crayola crayons. And I can’t seem to pass up a memory these days, especially if it only costs $2.
When I showed the book to Bodacious this week, she was instantly enamored. She loved the pictures of children in footie pajamas, the delicate birds in their nest. She sighed longingly at the pictures of the big brother holding hands with his sister.
We looked at the pages, slowly reading the words, moving our fingers from left to right to get the hang of directionality. I was reminded once again that this time with her is the most important time for me. In a few short years, she will leave home to find her own way in the world. And I will want nothing more than to have her back in her antique brass bed, safe and warm, cuddled up against me. How easy it is to lose sight of that in my rush to get everything done. Time is so precious, and my children are miracles. Being their mother is the greatest gift I will ever receive.
As we turned the page to see a beach with a sunset, I asked Bodacious if she wanted to read the sentence. She put her little finger on the first word, took a hesitant breath and read all four words slowly but flawlessly.
“For God … is good!” Amen, sweet girl. God is good all the time. Especially good, right then.
She didn’t read anything else that night, happy to just look at the illustrations and listen. And that was okay with me. I think she had already read the most important part.