I remember my first "primer" in first grade. Primers were what the teachers called the books of first graders. How powerful the were; they opened up a magical world. The world of books. The year, 1954. Education was different then. Kindergarten was reserved for rich kids. Ordinary students had no preschool or head start or kindergarten. Instead, we jumped right into first grade taught by strict taskmasters who didn't hesitate to smack your knuckles with a ruler or sit you in a corner wearing a dunce cap. Paddles were huge and wooden with holes to create the desired stinging effect--as if getting smacked in front of your classmates wasn't humiliating enough. But we learned--and quickly.
Girls wore dresses to school back then. Few, if any, owned any pants or jeans. For some of us, the only time we wore shoes was to church, so having our feet pinched all day in shoes took some getting used to.
But I loved school. I loved learning. And for sure I loved reading my primers, those magical Dick and Jane books. We held a cherished greeting card under each line of words until our eyes got accustomed to reading across the lines of text in a page. Tossing away those cards, when our eyes were trained, was a day of pride in our achievement. We were on our way to being accomplished readers. Yes, kids back then, living simpler lives were easily molded.
I lived in a rural community in south eastern Pennsylvania. We were the only people living along our narrow road who had a car. All our neighbors rode horse and buggies. Many did not have electricity or indoor plumbing due to their religious convictions. I can still remember spending days perched on our front porch watching the telephone company install poles and string lines so our neighborhood could have phone service. Yes, folks, I am THAT old.
Children of that era had daily chores: gathering eggs, feeding chickens, sweeping off the porch and sidewalk, gardening, dishes and whatever else needed done. We were kept busy. Idle hands were servants of the devil, or so our parents thought. Our lives revolved around farming, family and faith. The worlds taught us in school were so foreign, so exciting, so breathtaking. Was it any wonder we gobbled up every bit and parcel of knowledge we could? And how better to do that than by learning to read? The love affair began and beguiled us to read better, faster...MORE!
By the end of first grade our books had thickened. Our vocabulary increased. We took pride in how well we read. Although our school didn't have a library, we did have regular visits by the county bookmobile. What exciting days those were. Only those students who had good deportment were allowed access to the much-loved library on wheels. However, back then few kids had behavior problems. Those who did got a paddlin' in school and another one when they got home. Parents felt your disobedience in the classroom was a direct reflection on them and they didn't take too kindly to your "acting a fool" in school. Teachers also paddled you if you scored below a 75% on a test. Those "flunkies" were taken out into the hallway and paddled. The rest of us sat silently in our seats, eyes wide, counting the number of "swats" so thankful we'd studied and scored well.
We stepped aboard, full of excitement and seriousness for we'd learned worlds opened up to us when we read. The interior was a hushed, revered place. No foolish behavior was tolerated, believe me.
We chose Golden Books and volumes of ancient fairy tales.
We took pride in learning new words and reading to our parents.
Eventually, in the second or third grades, we learned to read chapter books. Heidi was my favorite. The Swiss Alps sounded so exotic.
I read voraciously as a child. We lived in the country and didn't get a TV until I was ten. Even then, we only watched it after the supper dishes were done. Books were my world, my stepping stone to the world beyond our farm.
Years passed, the books changed, but my love for books remained constant.
Enter a new era...eReaders. We never thought they'd catch on, did we? We poo-pooed them. We'd miss the smell, that private perfume of our beloved books. How could books read on a handheld device possibly be as enjoyable?
But to me, they are. I love our Kindle. You see, I've found the magic lies not in the books, themselves...but in the words...and the skill of the artist who paints his or her stories in vivid word strokes. As JK Rawlings said in her last Harry Potter movie, "The magic lies in the words."