Going to first grade changed my life, but as is often the case with life changing events, this one is stamped in my memory with trauma. Blond pigtails, sandals, a big backpack with new pencils and notebooks. A good little girl. My father walked me to school and left, the yellow door closing behind him, trapping me in the classroom.
I cried every morning, but there was no going back, only forward. I did not know it then, but before me stretched nineteen years of school. In the future, I sat in classrooms jotting down science notes, calculating complex calculus equations and analyzing the supply and demand of Absolut Vodka. But not yet. In first grade I still had to learn to read.
My classmates and I had tiles of Hebrew letters and vowels, and we played with them, putting them into words. I remember thinking the word Ima, the Hebrew for mother, looked strange, my child sense of wonder admiring the particular shape of the word, the dot of the vowel beneath the elegance of the aleph. And so I learned to read.
At school I learned letters and words, but it was my mother who taught me to love a good story. At the library we scanned the shelves, searching for another book to add to our growing pile. I read Janusz Korczak’s King Matt the First, Sir Walter Scott’s chivalric Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward, Dumas’ Three Musketeers. I devoured every James Herriott I could find, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful. I laughed till I fell off my bed reading Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals, Birds Beasts and Relatives, A Zoo in My Luggage.
I read all through the day and under my blanket at night. I hid my books under text books or in my drawer, tricking my mother into thinking I was studying for tests. I lived in books, imagining myself a heroine, going on an adventure, discovering new lands. And finally, since I’d been asking, the forces of heaven obliged. My parents took us for a year to South Africa where we experienced Apartheid firsthand but also explored exotic birds, elephants, lionesses and other wild animals, the Victoria Falls, and Kruger National Park.
Then, as though realizing that I have not yet learned to appreciate real life and was still sticking my nose into books all the time, a whirlwind of adventure ensued: California, the army, marriage, children, divorce, writing conferences, travel, rock climbing and so much more.
|The adventures of serving in the army and having a new dog|
I’m still crazy about reading, and I often wish that adventures were limited only to books, or at least came with a manual. I remember the little girl with the pigtails, her innocence, what little idea she had of what life still held in store. And I realize: I have lived a book, perhaps not edited by the best hands, but still with a great plot and lots of character development.