by Michael Dymmoch
My Ma was a compulsive reader—not her fault. It’s hereditary. My grandmother was a reader. Her mother got in trouble for reading when she was supposed to be working. Maybe that’s why Ma was such a great school librarian. She’d ask a kid about his interests, then find him a book on the subject. And when he returned the book, she’d ask him to tell her how he liked it. She filled her library with plants and bright posters. I still have one she made herself—a fat green dragon announcing “I need a book.”
I grew up with bookshelves full of books. Kids’ books. Adult books. Science and picture books. And we had The Reader’s Digest in the bathroom. Ma never limited my reading. I guess she figured if I was old enough to decipher the words, I’d figure out what to do with them. I must have been in college before I understood the concept of censorship. (I still don’t think I “get” it.)
Ma made me look things up. She must have understood that you have to spell the word to find it in the dictionary, ‘cause she’d often tell me how to spell words. But she wouldn’t give me definitions. She bought an old encyclopedia at a rummage sale and made me use that, too.
Ma had infinite patience with her embryonic novelist. It may have driven her crazy to listen to dialogs I’d memorized from favorite TV shows, but she never let on. She was inordinately proud when I finally published something.
Ma let me and my sibling have pets but she didn’t let us mistreat them. I grew up with questions like, “How would you feel if someone pulled your ears? (or tail? or hair?)” Even ants got respect. (“How would you feel if a giant stomped on your house and killed your family.”) In spite of her fear of such animals, Ma let me keep a donkey (who taught me to be patient with stubborn individuals). When the donkey died, Ma made peanut butter sandwiches (his favorite) for his funeral.
Ma taught me to cook and sew and be helpful, and to understand irony. And she left me with the observation—framed and on my wall now--“People need love most when they deserve it least.”