On the table in my living room is a photo of someone whom I have not seen in almost 90 years. But nine decades notwithstanding, no one in my past or current life even approaches the positive effect that my mother continues to have on me. This, despite the fact that she died when I was nine years old, and was buried on her birthday, February 9.
If ever there was an indication of the importance of the first two to three years of life, in my belief my pre-kindergarten years illustrated that. Thanks to my mother’s guidance, I was able to read car cards in the subway when I was two and a half years old. By the age of three, I was able to read books designed for older children. At the age of six I memorized the 23rd Psalm and recited it before the church congregation.
I vividly remember my mother taking me to the local library when I was five years old, still in kindergarten, the purpose being to open a card in my name. The librarian in a kindly way explained that this could be done only after I was in First Grade and learned to read. Turning to me, my mother instructed me to go to the juvenile section and bring back a book of my choosing and read it out loud. I still remember the title: The Blue Fairy Book. I had gotten only as far as: “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a castle …” when the librarian said: “Here’s your card.”
Although I was a willing learner, it was my mother’s realization that reading, writing and speaking are the basic abilities underlying all the others. I was in the first grade for one week when the school principal walked in the door. The teacher asked me to stand up and read from a book. The principal asked me to accompany him and I then found myself in the second grade.
My mother encouraged my interest in writing plays. In the process of reading the Bible, I memorized the 23rd Psalm and recited it before the church congregation. I remember writing plays which were never performed. At the age of seven I received a violin, took lessons, and played for years. Having a boy’s natural soprano voice, I was able to sing an octave above high C and with my mother’s encouragement found myself in the church’s boys choir. My mother was a member of the local American Legion Auxiliary which presented a minstrel annually, and each year I found myself on the stage.
All of the above may illustrate my susceptibility to learning but, more than that, it indicates, in my obviously biased opinion, my mother’s ability to draw out the best in a person. Her ability to do that furnished a basis which strengthened me throughout my years.