My mother raised me on soup and stories. I was finicky about the former, preferring tomato with so much milk in it that we called it “pink soup”, but insatiable for the latter. In her melodious reading voice, Mama first whet my appetite with Golden Books, later following them with a delectable selection of chapter books: Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and then Rosemary and the Princess by JosephineLawrence. How thrilled I was to share a first name with a character in a novel.
Each noon, I entered the kitchen with a stack of favorite books, climbed onto the yellow plastic seat of the kitchen stool, and tucked into a bowl of pink soup, while Mama read story after story. I would make that meal last and linger over dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered with chocolate Bosco syrup. I’m still not sure when or whether Mama ever ate her lunch.
That diet of soup and stories nourished my dream of becoming a published writer. In secret, before learning to read and write, I turned the pages of books, making up the story and playing at being the author. More than once, I also scribbled in the margins of books, pretending to write.
Years later, while teaching remedial reading and writing classes at a community college, I tried to impart the passion for books that my mother gave me. Of course, my students were not at such an impressionable age as I had been during soup and story time. Still, students with a hunger for knowledge, who developed a taste for books—sampling, savoring, and devouring—and tried new recipes for combining reading and writing skills often delighted me. “Read to your children,” I said to every class, “now if you have children or in the future when you do.” All the cool and ever-changing devices for transmitting ideas may speed and augment communication and perhaps entertain us, but they cannot replace the warm and nourishing experience of reading aloud with loved ones.
In the month of May, reflecting on the loving reading lunchtimes shared with my mother, I recall our special favorite, The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane, a Rand McNally Book-Elf Book by Ian Munn. This little book is a timeless celebration of the art of communication and of the importance of writing—of issuing invitations to share “apple tarts and little lemon cakes all covered with hickory nuts” and of sending thank-you notes, of communicating our concern and affection for others. The Little Mailman, a chipmunk who leads a cast of charming animal characters, is a messenger of hope. I've never forgotten his greeting to Mrs. Duck: "a yellow letter for you today. Yellow means good news, you know!" Just this spring, my mother sent me a birthday card in a yellow envelope—she has not forgotten either. Bon appetit!