I want to tell you about the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.
My mom is a great reader. She passed her love of books on to me. My mom taught me to read when I was four years old.
OAK PARK, IL- July 1979
When I was four years old, my mom took me to the most exciting place in the world. Every Saturday we would walk to the Oak Park Public Library. I had no idea the Oak Park Public Library was only two miles from where Ernest Hemingway was born.
When I was five years old, my dad bought a stack of old Spider-Man comic books. I was hooked. Both my parents encouraged reading.
I love libraries. In a library, you have a wonderful ambiance. All those stacks of books are new friends waiting to be met. Stephen King is up there watching you. John Masters is waiting for you to pick him up. A library is a great place to read and learn.
Discovering Hemingway– STUART, FL- August 1990
In high school money was tight. I tried to educate myself by going to the library every weekend. I stumbled across Hemingway by accident. Hemingway was never “required reading” in my high school.
A buddy told me there was a lot of sex in ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (he lied). The story grabbed me. I thought there must be a mistake. Hemingway used simple words in short sentences. The book was easy-to-read. Hemingway painted a picture with words. It was the opposite of what my teachers told me.
I’d had crushes on girls but had never fallen in love with a writer. I read every Hemingway book I could get my hands on. Hemingway was the “bad boy” of literature. He wrote about love, bullfighting, deep sea fishing and big game hunting. At fifteen-years-old, all I understood was that he was easy to read.
I read and re-read his novels, his war correspondence, and short stories. I learned something new each time.
In the Army- FORT KNOX, KY- April 2003
When I was in the Army, the first thing I did was to find the post library and the local library. Within a month of arriving at Fort Knox, KY or Fort Polk, LA or wherever I knew every library within fifty miles.
Everything I needed to know I learned from books in libraries. Each library book collection is unique. Each new library was a new friend waiting to be discovered.
At War- FOB DANGER and FOB LIBERTY, IRAQ- July 2005/ FOB TOMBSTONE, AFGHANISTAN- August 2008/ CAMP MOREHEAD, AFGHANISTAN- January 2011
In each of the places I was stationed overseas, there was a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). The MWR was a place that gave away free coffee, bottled water, and sometimes sandwiches. Most soldiers remember the MWR for their internet services. I remember the MWR for its stacks and stacks of free books.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the MWR had reading rooms made out of plywood. On the walls of the reading room were five shelf bookcases crammed full of used paperback and hardcover books. Soldiers and the Family Readiness Groups (FRG) donated these books.
I would head over to the Green Beans coffee shop, get a cup of black coffee, sit down on a red ratty old couch and read a book. Soldiers surrounded me playing pool, using a ping-pong table and a dartboard. I am alone, at home, with my book.
When I graduated from high school, there was no money for an education. I made my own homemade education by reading. I was lucky to get a scholarship to go to Kemper Military Junior College. In college, I discovered beer and girls, but I kept reading. Kemper had a fantastic old library
I was fascinated by knowledge and what I was learning. I read books about everything from history, religion, places, and people. My mom taught me something powerful when she taught me how to read: all you have to do is to want to learn.
Teaching me how to read and to love books was the greatest gift my mom ever gave me.