As a small child I read voraciously, having learned to read at the age of 3. My kindergarten teacher would often hand me a book and ask me to read to the class while she went to take care of other business. I was a shy child and did not like being the center of attention, but would soon find myself lost in the book and my imagination, which helped with the stage fright that came with standing up in front of the class.
My father was a reader as well, and found a way to teach me the value of words. I came across the word “distaff” in a book I was reading, and my father advised me to look it up in the big, old dictionary we had. He decided to use this as a teaching point, and from that day on, he required me to report back to him each day with a new word and its definition from the dictionary. My vocabulary increased tenfold from that point on.
I still have that old dictionary from the 1950s and can’t bear to part with it, as old and outdated as it is. Whenever I have come across the word “distaff” in my life, I remember that day fondly, and am grateful for the world my father opened for me by helping me to appreciate the power of words. I heard a word this morning (proprietor) that struck me with the images and connotations it brought forth. It seems an old fashioned word to me, bringing visions of small town businesses such as candy shops, antique shops, or small bookstores, tended by proprietors with large, old-fashioned keys, and a myriad of delicious treats and treasures in store for their customers. I love a word that sets my imagination free!
Other lessons from my father fell on deaf ears at the time, but were remembered and appreciated later on in my life. There was a series of Young Peoples’ Concerts on TV that my father required me to watch as a teenager. Of course I complied, but rolled my eyes and tried not to look at the TV screen in defiance. I couldn’t drown out the sounds, however, which must have made an impression on me because to this day, I enjoy the sounds of a symphony, and wish I had paid better attention back then to the programs.
I am deeply grateful for having been exposed to classical music back then, as well as my father’s jazz music, which I also did not appreciate having to hear. The sound of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” takes me back to a time when my parents were both alive and life was much simpler. Sometimes I play it just to remind me of those days, before I had to succumb to the realities of life. For just a few minutes, if I close my eyes, I can pretend I am that child again, and can envision my parents dancing around the living room, caught up in their own escapes.
Another lesson my father tried to instill in me was that nothing good ever happens from being out past 1 a.m. Even into my 20s, I still had a 1 a.m. curfew. I was held to this time, no matter what, and I knew enough to make sure I was home. Reflecting back to the time when I was finally able to stay out later because I did not live at home anymore, I think my father was absolutely correct in his statement that nothing good ever happens after 1 a.m. Enough said.
Last but not least, from the time I was old enough to drive, my father was adamant that I never, ever let the gas tank go below three-quarters in the winter time. This winter, especially, I think he would be proud of the fact that I took that advice to heart, and am always prepared for the possibility of getting stuck on the road somewhere. It hasn’t happened, but should it, I will be prepared.
I lost my father to heart disease when he was only 64, but he has never really been gone from my life for his lessons, not always welcomed at the time, are deeply ingrained in me to this day. I hope that, in some small way, my lessons to my children have also found a place in their hearts and will have a positive effect on their lives as well. As parents, this is one of the most loving gifts we can give them.