The Easter Egg the Easter Worm and Me

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The Easter Egg the Easter Worm and Me

There is a glistening, squiggly brown earthworm hiding just under the Easter egg I’m grabbing from the damp red clay near my grandparents’ home in Peterson, Alabama, this bright sunny Sunday in Alabama, circa 1946.

Suddenly, my zeal in finding more treasure than cousins and siblings is placed on hold. Standing frozen, clutching the aqua-dyed hard boiled condiment in one hand and a small hand-woven basket in the other, I squint at the alien creature and wonder what it will do, now that I’ve exposed it to a larger reality.

I am regarding the earthworm, but I wonder whether it is regarding me.

It curls and stretches and begins burrowing into a deeper earth, so I decide that it has no interest in me and my Easter egg.

Which end is front, which is back? How does it eat? How does it even see?

I can’t help pondering during this extended moment. I know something special has happened, but I cannot quite express what that something special is.

Suddenly, I become the worm and begin feeling the soft red clay sliding past my extended exterior. It is getting darker as I leave the sunshine behind and head for home. Is my family waiting for me to relate my adventure? How will I explain my excitement? How will I describe objects that I cannot name?

“Ma, this gigantic roundish object was on the ground, and I thought I would hide beneath it for a time, but suddenly these five pudgy pale pink worms came down from the sky and just missed squashing me. They lifted the big round thing up to the sky and disappeared!”

What will Ma say when I tell her this? Will she dismiss the whole thing as something I dreamed up? Will she curl around me and comfort me till I settle down? Can she actually see in the dark?

“Jimbo! C’mon over here and let’s count your eggs,” cousin Jerry yells. I snap out of my tiny worm world and run over to other relatives and family to continue the Easter egg hunt.

Later that night, Mother gives me permission to eat the aqua-colored egg. As I crack and peel away the shell, the soft shiny white surface reminds me of the shiny earthworm family I’ll never get to know.

I silently nibble on the egg and pay secret respects to the critters that surround my small world…the worms that may become fish bait, the fish that may become food, the egg itself that might have become a baby chick…and the worms that, a few decades down the road, may become the diners rather than the dined

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.

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I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book

I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book

So…what is the first book you ever read?

What is the first book I ever read?

Allow me to crank up the Time Machine and get back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when books slowly insinuated themselves into my life.

First thing I do is SEE a book. It’s over there, just within reach of my chubby little uncoordinated fingers. I can roll just a quarter-roll in my crib—that’s all it takes to see this unfocused blur of colors and shapes on the cover. All I know how to do is experience the book, not knowing that it can be read and manipulated. So, I do what I know how to do: lick the cover and gnaw at the corners. It tastes different than those mashed-up things they are feeding me. It would be even tastier if I could bite off a piece and swallow it, but that comes later.

So, first I SEE a book. Then I TASTE it. Then I masticate a bit. Then, I lose concentration and fixate on a wiggly toy that is hanging above me. I’ll get back to the book later.

Next thing I know, I’m snuggled up to my mother’s chest, experiencing the words she is reading to me as they vibrate the side of my face. I can HEAR her voice with one ear. I can FEEL her voice with the other. And then I note that she is gently turning the pages, causing the colorful shapes and strange markings to shift each time. I can hear her inflections of warmth, suspense, happiness, as the pages drift by.

Before I know it, I’m sitting up in my own wobbly fashion and turning the pages—not necessarily one at a time, not necessarily in any order. But I am doing the book the way I know how to do it. And, now and then, I even taste it again. I’ve been known to rub a crayon onto the paper to add color and design.

Time flies and now I’m reciting a book to my mother and sister, pretending that I’m reading it as the pages pass, but actually I still don’t know how to read, I’m just feeding back what I’ve heard them read aloud so many times. They play along with the ruse.

Now, at last, I am picking out a word or two in preparation for enrolling in the first grade. I’m excited about the prospect of actually making my way through the words with some degree of understanding. And, amazingly, after a while I start to read big-lettered words on my own.

What is the first book I can read without assistance? Hard to tell, since the books at school are not the same books we have at home. I’m reading some in both places. But in class, I get to read a Dick and Jane and Sally story all the way through! When I become an author many years later, I am jealous of those who wrote this reader. Wouldn’t you like to be the writer whose works can be recited by heart by millions of school kids? “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!”

In middle age, I discover the song that comedian Jimmy Durante co-wrote and performed with gusto:

 There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day a read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

(Listen to Jimmy sing it, at the end of this column.)

Just yesterday, a pleasant family enters the shop, looking around and remarking upon the variety of things to read. One young girl is just tagging along, so naturally she’s the one I try to engage in conversation: “What do you like to read?” I ask, hoping to introduce some titles to her. She performs a sly smile and doesn’t answer because, like so many other children I meet these days, she knows her avid parents will answer for her. “Oh, she doesn’t read,” her father says. I know what he’s saying, but I play dumb just to see what kind of response I’ll get: “You mean she doesn’t know how to read?” I ask sympathetically. She grins even more deeply, waiting for her parent’s punchline. “No she just doesn’t like to read.”

I get it now. This lass has found a way to rebel against her parents, assert her own identity, appear cool to other kids. Normally, I get to talk up a book enough to inspire someone like her to try it, but I know there’s no way this can happen when hovering but well-meaning parents are there to puppet-master her conversation.

So, I say what I always say whenever the situation calls for it: “Oh, too bad. Mark Twain once said that a person who does not read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

This is aimed at no-one in particular. The girl gets the joke but continues to play dumb. The parents remain perplexed.

What will no doubt happen—I’ve see it often—is she will discover a spicy novel proffered by a friend and, in secret, read it voraciously, becoming hooked on reading despite herself. She will, in the tradition of all kids, hide this novel and this fact from her parents as long as she possibly can.

The cycle goes on.

And maybe one day she’ll hear an old Jimmy Durante song and get excited all over again

Here’s Jimmy:

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.

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Falling Up the Stairs for Fifty Years or So

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Falling Up the Stairs for Fifty Years or So

Just checking a list of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

It’s the 1960′s, and I’m standing in the poolside doorway of my apartment in Alberta City, Alabama. To be exact, I live at Claymont Apartments just behind the bowling alley that is boldly called Leland Lanes. To the far right side of the obligatory chlorine-fragranced swimming pool I can see a small human figure swaying in the twilight shadows, silhouetted against the picture windows of each living unit.

I can make out who this human is, just from the way he holds himself. It’s Bill, the Tuscaloosa city planner who resides here. Normally, Bill is an engaging and lively conversationalist who takes his day job quite seriously. But on the weekends, and particularly on Saturday nights–this happens to be one of those Saturday nights–Bill pickles himself with a steady flow of beverages of the alcohol-content type. When Bill drinks, he remains sociable and smiling and harmless, but the lively discussions may wander about with less focus than usual.

Anyhow, this evening, Bill is weaving toward the stairs that lead to his second floor nest. His aim is true despite the meandering, and he raises his right foot to place it on the first step. He’s not holding onto the banister because his hands are protectively preoccupied with one bottle and one tumbler hugged to his chest.

Bill leans forward onto his right leg and raises his left leg, aiming to achieve either the same step or, optimistically, the second step. At this point, his leaning takes the appearance of toppling forward, face rapidly plunging toward the concrete surfaces. But then, a magical moment occurs. Instinctively cuddling both containers, Bill quickly raises his right foot in order to engage a third stair, thus saving his face but in the process failing to stabilize his downward fall. Rapidly struggling to remain erect, Bill lifts his left leg and manages to plant it on the fourth step just fast enough to again refrain from falling flat upon stairs and glassware.

Magically, Bill continues to fall forward at the same rate that  his legs effect the ascent and, like a slapstick comedian, he eventually arrives at the top of the flight, still wobbling, but vertical and unharmed.

I realize that time has stood still during this event. I haven’t breathed or averted my gaze. It happens so quickly that it takes me a while to absorb the physics of what I’ve just witnessed.

Bill wends his way toward his apartment or the next second-story party that he can find. I resume breathing and going about the business of hunkering down for the evening. Life goes on for another fifty years. Memories like this keep falling forward into my mind like a drunken friend, unable to self-destruct, unable to become forgettable.

I smile to myself and check the list to see what other funny reminiscences are hiding in stacks of notes and dictations.

There’s got to be a funny pony somewhere in there

© Jim Reed 2016 A.D.

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One More Glance at Childhood

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One More Glance at Childhood

You can tell that it hurts her to bring me all this beautiful and nostalgic grammar
school stuff now and then. 

You can tell that it hurts her because she lingers after I’ve paid her for today’s trove,
she lingers and looks around at my walls and at my floor where the detritus of
humanity’s creative genius lies in stacks and piles and boxes and crates, stacks and
piles and boxes and crates of wonderful colorful playful deadly serious materials
from every generation since before and after the printing press. 

She smiles and looks longingly at the school materials she has just sold me: readers
and primers and felt figures and punch-out pieces that have never been punched out,
posters and circus banners and lovely lovely children’s items long disdained by
everybody but overgrown children like you and me. 

She no longer has enough room to store these glorious objects, and she wants to get
them into the hands of someone who’s more than a dealer/less than a dealer,
someone who will appreciate them and respect them and try to get them into the
right hands, and she has carefully chosen me as her heir, as her medium for passing
on the joyful notes of childhood. 

I pay her what I can afford to pay her, sometimes more than I can afford to pay her,
because I want her to keep coming back, coming back to see and pay respect to me,
coming back to bring me more surprises in the form of first-experience rushes to the
face as I open her treasure chests. 

And, too, I can tell that it hurts her to bring me all this beautiful stuff because she
tells me it hurts her, she tells me it hurts her, not in a whining voice, not in a sad
voice, but in a voice full of wisdom she has attained after a certain number of
unnameable years, wisdom she attained by being first stimulated and encouraged by
this vast array of paper ideas and paper feelings and paper joys and paper

Our transactions are sacred and ceremonial.
I never thank her enough, she never stays long enough for one more extended and wistful goodbye to childhood