Thursday, June 25, 2009

False Teeth, Poetry, and Formula 44 Cough Syrup

It felt as if I had been waiting for hours, but it probably hadn't been more than thirty minutes or so. And when the train finally coasted into the station, my mother could barely keep me behind the safety line.

The conductor would put out the step for her and the first thing I always saw were my grandma's black, t-strap shoes. I can still hear the clang on that metal step as the conductor helped her down. There was no one like my grandma. My cousins and I were sure she loved each one of us the best. It got a little brutally competitive at times about who Grandma's favorite was, but all I knew was, when I met her at the train station, she was all mine for a few days.

She always stayed in my room. She slept in my bed and I got to sleep on a cot next to her, a TV tray of her pills and Formula 44 cough syrup between us. She'd take out her false teeth for my brother and me, as many times as we asked her! And she had a real corset. I used to get to help her lace it up in back, because she had severe arthritis and she was born without the fingers on one hand. I loved that hand, because it was smooth and warm and it fit inside my little kid hand. I can still remember how her watch looked on the wrist of that hand.

But the most wonderful thing about my grandma was her poems. She would tirelessly recite poems to me. Even now, I can hear the ebb and flow of her words. That's probably what made me love poetry. Someone recently asked me why I made my main character in ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER a poet. I said it was to give Harper a way to feel heard and not to feel invisible. I guess that's pretty much what we all need--someone to listen like what you're saying is the most important thing in the world...and, of course, to take their false teeth out as many times as you ask them to.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Written Word

I always said that first grade was the one grade I'd never teach.  You are responsible for far too much.  My mother was a first grade teacher.  I'd see her up late every night, preparing and planning.  Imagine my surprise when I was offered a first grade position nine years ago and I heard my voice say, I'd love to.  

Now I can honestly say it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.  There's nothing like teaching someone to read.  I love seeing their face when everything starts to blend together and the light goes on.  Sometimes it takes a while for things to start to click.  But when it does, it's all worth it.  

I love it when someone will hold up a book from the classroom and say, "Can I take this home?" 

The written word.  There's nothing like it.