Bluebirds, redbirds and yellowbirds
As a first grader struggling to learn how to handle the combined worlds of phonics and sight-reading, I enjoyed trying to read aloud the words on road signs. It didn't matter where our family was traveling or how long we had been on the road; I was always happy to narrate the trip.
"Stop.""Yield.""Stop.""No U turn.""Stop.""One Way.""Stop."
He never said much about it, but I feel certain my dad, who served as our family chauffeur, appreciated my assistance. Eventually, my reading skills matured to the level of billboards, and I found trying to read each of the words before the family sedan sped past challenging but fun.
Soon enough, my ability progressed to bound pages and I attempted to venture through the vast library my mom kept on the shelves in our living room.
The library was filled with the classics, including War and Peace, several selections by Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. I especially remember Stevenson's book because of a note sent home by my teacher.
It seems she felt my reading ability was sorely lacking and I was lagging behind the skill levels of my classmates. I may have been a late-bloomer, but it was no surprise to me; after all, it didn't take an Einstein to figure out that the reading groups she had named for various birds were ability based. Everyone in the class knew the bluebirds were the best, then the redbirds who were followed by the yellowbirds. My well-meaning father decided that the best way to help his fledgling little yellowbird was to make her read a book worthy of a soaring eagle. He chose Treasure Island. (An interesting choice considering the rabble rousing, drinking, murders and mayhem detailed in it.)
I have not-so-fond memories of sitting at our kitchen table struggling through the hundreds of pages penned by Robert Louis Stevenson while my mom cooked supper. To this day I don't particularly care for the color yellow or pirates, and the wafting aroma of oven-baked tuna casserole evokes ridiculous outbursts of "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum."
Eventually, reading came easier to me and I found that I actually delighted in the written word. One book from my mother's library that I found particularly fascinating was a Reader's Digest publication called "Our Human Body: Its Wonders and Its Care."
I know what you're thinking, but, no, there weren't a lot of daring pictures in this fairly straightforward, self-described "library of fact and guidance."
I happily found this book held the answers to questions curious children through the ages have had about the human body and its many mysteries. With sections such as "The Changing Cycles of Life," "Man, Woman and Fertility" and "The Body Beautiful," the book saved me many an awkward moment of asking my parents the who-what-when-where-and-how of my existence.
A few years ago, my mother moved from Mississippi to Indiana. She gave me several books from her library, including the now ancient book by Reader's Digest. (Thankfully, she kept Treasure Island.) Not surprisingly, much of the information in this particular medical book is dated, but it still makes for interesting reading.
Stressed out? Feverish? Constipated? Well, if it were 1962, I'd have the answers at my fingertips.
Evidently, my parents were equally comfortable with the if-the-kid-has-a-question-let-her-read-about-it arrangement because when she considered the time right my mother gave me a rather detailed book, complete with pictures, about growing up and the teen-age years. It was called Almost Twelve. Never mind I was already 13.
I guess she figured once a yellow bird, always a yellow bird.