WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday, Memoir

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of KL Schwengel.  If you want to participate, post an excerpt tied to the date somehow, and add the link here. This excerpt is from my memoir.  It is much rougher than the earlier excerpts, so criticism is welcome.  It is 23 sentences for the date.

My nearest sibling in age was four years older, and the only one of us who went to kindergarten. By the fall I was 18 months old, I inhabited a dim and quiet house for most of the day.  My mother slept on the couch from the time the older kids left, to the time they came home. I crept silently into my overstuffed chair, and lived a full life with my imaginary friends and my books. I eavesdropped from under the table when my father read to my younger sister, or when my older sister or brother read for my father. In my chair, I began to trace through the pages, finally cracking the code of the letters, and, with tears of joy, the words. My parents were astounded I knew how to read when I was three.  I had received a new book for Christmas from a family friend, and proceeded to read it in the car on the way back home.  Initially, my siblings were scornful, thinking I was pretending I could read, but when they verified I was reading the correct words, no one knew how I learned.  Neither my mother or father had any idea, and questioned my siblings. All of them denied spending the time or effort to teach me to read.  I knew how I had done it, but no one asked me.

I found my siblings’ abandoned readers and dove into them, thumbing through them many times in the three eternal years I waited for school. Books were my escape, my friends, my refuge.  Reading at an early age, after years of long, quiet hours to practice, I stood out in first grade. I gloried in the attention and approbation at first, but teachers’ notice had a dark side.  At one point, my teacher told me to finish reading a story to the class, and left the room.  While the children behaved well in the classroom, even while she was gone, my payback awaited on the playground.

I was surrounded and taunted. Backed by most of my classmates, the largest boy in the class towered over me, jeering, “Spell cat, if you’re so smart!” Even in my terror, I remember thinking, what a stupid word to pick. His face shining in fury, his fist inches from my face, he demanded a confession that I had made up the story and could not read.  Faced with physical harm, I quickly complied.



20 thoughts on “WIPpet Wednesday, Memoir”

  1. Wow. Powerful. Childhood bullying is no joke. I will never understand why so many adults allow it as some kind of rite of passage or thing kids must endure to become mature.

    I can definitely relate to finding comfort and companionship in books. I sometimes think I still relate better to fictional people than to real people.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I don’t understand the adults who think it is part of childhood to be bullied, either. And I think most writers have real relationships with characters, who sometimes are more “real” than the real people surrounding us. 🙂

  2. I love this. You record the emotions well. And reading is definitely a refuge–to some people, a gift even. Reading is always there, on the worst days. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. I’m speechless. And I so want to come to your rescue. I was a shy child and a bit of a loner, but that was by choice. I still find books preferable to relating to people. 😉 I really can’t find much to nit-pick. If this is rough, your rough is darn good. I love the bit about thinking ‘cat’ was a stupid word even though you were petrified.

    1. Your impulse is very sweet, Kathi. As is often the case, I didn’t realize how off-kilter so much of my childhood was until I had something to compare it to. I married a man with two daughters, 3 and 5 at the time, and was felled constantly by the oceans, no, interplanetary spaces, between my treatment at that age and theirs.

      I appreciate the compliments, and I still smile at the memory of that clear thought of what a stupid word to ask me to spell. And I can totally relate to finding books preferable to people (I ended up as a librarian, after all!)

      1. Ah! Kindred souls. I grew up in a library. My mother was a librarian and I spent many hours there, wandering amongst the stacks, venturing into the attic where musty tomes were stored. My mom always had to come looking for me.

        1. Oh, libraries were a favorite place of mine as a kid, even if I had to read to the head librarian to be allowed to check out books from the adult section! I kept ending up working for libraries, so when I needed to find a marketable skill (Medieval studies, much!?!?), I went to library school.

  4. It’s funny how oblivious people can be about things they’re doing. How could your family not see that they’d been teaching you to read by teaching your siblings how to read?

    Rhetorical question, of course. It seems very much that they saw what they expected to see, what they “knew” they could see… at least until it hit them between the eyes.

    I can’t say I taught myself to read (at least not anymore than we taught the Boodle), but I always had books, and my parents were always reading something, so reading always was the “thing to do”. In contrast you your situation, as an only child, my parents expected me to read early. I remember reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers when I was four and asking about the horoscopes (my parents had a lot of books on Astrology which I also read) and being told I shouldn’t waste my time on that fluff and being directed to articles on Nixon and Johnson.

    Strong piece… I’m glad I never had the curse of being the teacher’s darling (despite my at times wishing I could be because I “knew” the work). Being bullied on the playground for being the outsider in town was bad enough.

    1. It is a rhetorical question, but I did wonder, this invisible child–very odd. Funny that your parents directed you to more substantive reading, but it obviously stood you in good stead.

      The teacher’s darling cut both ways. I was often targeted, but I also benefited from the approval and affection of my teachers as it replaced a lot of what was missing at home. Were you targeted because you were from a farm? It’s distressing how children learn to bully the “other.”

      1. I think the focus is passion, wherever it is directed (though, to this day, I avoid reading newspapers like the plague).

        It wasn’t so much the farm; a lot of families in the area farmed. I was from “outside” in a town where most people could trace their ancestors for several generations. It’s really interesting story fodder to analyze these days. But children… they do what they learn from home, and that’s more distressing.

        1. Ah, the infamous “we’ve been here forever,” snub. But yes, what people teach their children, seemingly on purpose sometimes, passes understanding. It reminds of the very old Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, “Teach Your Children Well.”

  5. I want to go back in time and share that chair with your tiny-girl self. So many hugs I’m sending you!

    When I was in kindergarten, an older girl taunted me by daring me to spell ‘dumb’. She simply would not believe that there was a ‘b’ at the end of it, because she couldn’t hear it. She called me dumb, instead.

    School was not the best of environments to stand out in.

    1. Thank you for the hugs, Shan. The tiny-girl greatly appreciates them. Sad that anyone who stands out gets vilified–it’s part of the reason I despise K-12 education. I guess I can’t fault higher education, since that’s where I make my living, but there is a lot of unsavoriness there as well.

      1. The hugs feel good to my tiny-girl, too. I think the idea of grading kids feeds this type of nastiness. It seems to shape minds into nonstop competition mode, and, if a child happens to be bright in a school area, other kids tend to need to cut them down.

        It really isn’t fair. I learned to read (and remember learning; it was an internal affair) at age 4. My daughter learned at 8. In school, she would have been labeled as learning disabled, or a problem reader, or something else that told her she wasn’t okay.

        Instead, she had a family of readers, lots of input that didn’t come from reading, books and text in abundance, and a family who never ever treated her as less-than or lacking because she was a little later to crack that code.

        And crack it she did, without a single reading lesson in her life. She’s 10, now, and often comes to read over my shoulder. She can read anything she’s inclined to.

        For her, the only problem would have been schoolish expectations that all kids need to learn by a certain point that didn’t match her individual development.

        *tucks away soapbox!*

        1. I chafed at sending my kids to school, but couldn’t find a mutually satisfying answer for the DH and me. I winced at every instance of their being square pegs, and there were myriad instances.

          For the indoctrination program of the school system, reading late is bad, reading early is bad. Reading only in the two-month period that is deemed completely appropriate is good. I share your soapbox totally.

          When my boys left high school (early in each of their cases, as it was in mine), they blossomed in the welcoming openness of college classes. My oldest had been an indifferent student, but is pegging the GPA in college.

          If I had it to do over again, I think I’d be knocking on your door for information.

          1. I’m guessing that your boys benefited from the fact that your eyes were open to what school was capable of doing to them. I’m also guessing that you didn’t measure their value as people or learners by their school performance.

            My kids are avid learners of what matters to them. There is definitely stuff school kids “know” that they don’t – and a whole lot they know that is far too wide and deep for school to begin to cover.

            And they fit just right in our lives. For me, that’s a fair trade-off.

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