I remember lying on the lawn, when I was about four years old, with my grandfather looking up at the sky and him asking me what did I see in the clouds floating by, and at first I just murmured, “clouds” in a brusque manner not really understanding the point of all of this. He then reiterated, “But what do you see in the clouds?” and went on to point at specific clouds and described what each individual cloud looked like to him, a dog’s head, a sailboat, or a sea shell, and then I slowly comprehended and I could picture my own images, creating a passing parade of cartoonish figures suddenly being sketched in my minds eye. I could see them now, a dragon, a spaceship and there a cat that is turning into a frog as it moves across the sky. These moments of guidance help the imagination of a child flourish in a positive way.
Reading can also cause a child’s imagination to grow, but it can only really happen when reading no longer becomes a chore and evolves instead into a means of having an adventure and as an aid to help you overcome an otherwise mundane existence.
My first encounter of the realization that literature could be an exciting experience occurred in my fourth grade class when Mr. Colchord, a substitute teacher who sat in on our class for a couple of hours once a week to pontificate and read aloud to us. Mr. Colchord was an interesting character in his own right in that he introduced himself to us as the salutatorian of his high school class, who had tied a classmate in grade point average and then wrote a competing essay against the other student in a contest for the valedictorianship of the class. Mr. Colchord explained that the essays were gone over with a fine toothed comb and that he lost out because he had neglected to dot a letter “i” somewhere in his composition. And speaking of eyes, even at the tender age of 10, I suspected that Mr. Colchord was tugging at the wool over our eyes.
But whatever Mr. Colchord supposedly lacked in an eye for detail he definitely overcame with bravado, bluster and the ability to read aloud, almost in an incantatory fashion, by which he proceeded to enrapture and at the same time terrify our classroom with the macabre tales written by Edgar Allen Poe. He plunged right into the “The Telltale Heart” with it’s devious and murderous plot of a madman who does in a neighbor who merely looks at him in a peculiar way. And in another session he delighted us with a reading of “The Raven” in a most sinister but melodious voice, creating a haunting and harrowing atmosphere for us. Mr. Colchord read aloud in the manner of a British thespian orating a Shakespearean soliloquy to his audience, with all the grandeur, melodrama and angst he could muster. Because of him I became an instant fan of Poe and proceeded to the town library to checkout and delve into his writings, which kept me awed and repulsed, simultaneously, just as Poe and Mr. Colchord intended.
As a child I later went on to ride the mighty Mississippi River with Huck Finn, wrestle with pirates in “Treasure Island” and to explore the Rocky Mountains of the American west with Kit Carson while reading his biography.
We had no television until I was nine years old or so and even then, because we lived in the country, we only got a couple of channels when the conditions were right for television aerial reception, good or otherwise.
Instead the relied upon media was daily newspapers and weekly magazines. The Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine were the two periodicals that my family received regularly.
I remember opening the Saturday Evening Post and the most wonderful smell emanated from it’s freshly printed pages. This I noticed at a very early age long before I could read and all I could do was look at the pictures.
Oftentimes the cover of the Post was graced by a Norman Rockwell illustration and during Christmastime the back cover was a Coca-Cola advertisement featuring a portrait of Santa Claus imbibing said product.
Life magazine was essentially a weekly wrap up of the world news containing many photographs which I perused as a non-reading youngster. Eventually when I was able to read, I also enjoyed the articles and stories accompanying the photos and illustrations.
Another weekly we received by mail was Grit newspaper which I read thoroughly. Grit was printed on smaller stock than most newspapers at that time and it was easier to handle for a child. I naively felt as though the paper was printed just for me and I was comfortable and comforted while reading the weekly. I most enjoyed the Odd, Strange and Curious page along with the numerous comic strips.