Today was the first day back to school. I love this time of year, seeing the children after 6 weeks away. Seeing how tall they’ve grown--some taller than me (although to be fair that’s not that difficult) and to see how much they learned over the summer or how much they lost. It is time that makes me excited because I think of all the stories I am going to share with children in the upcoming year. Fairy tales, folk tales, traditional tales, historical fiction--all performed in costume with props by yours truly.
My mum phoned last night to tell me that one of my dearest childhood friends had died. She was in her 80s and in ill health to but to me Nina (pronounced Nine-a) will always be associated with my love of books. As a child I spent lots of time at her house, nearly every Sunday for several years. You see, I attended a very small Unitarian-Universalist church and I was the only child. There was no one to interact with. If someone was to teach me Sunday School they would have to miss the main service. Mostly it was my mum who volunteered to come out. That’s where Nina stepped in. She had 2 grown boys of her own and had time to spare and books a plenty. So we set up an alternate Sunday School for me at Nina’s house.
And what a house it was! There was a room with a wall made of dark brown cork that smelled heavenly. I loved to rub my face on it and inhale it’s woodsy odour. In that room were shelves and shelves of books and big chair just right for 2 people. Together we sat in the big comfy chair and she read me the most wonderful books. There was the book of Russian tales called The Poppy Seed Cakes by Margery Clark with wonderful illustrations by Maud and Miska Petersham. Those stories featured a naughty little girl named Erminka who was forever getting into scrapes wearing red topped boots that were much too big for her. It also featured characters like her neighbour Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka from the old country. We also read fairy tales. I was already a devotee of the Brothers Grimm but Nina introduced me to Hans Christian Anderson and we spent many Sundays reading my 2 favourite tales--"The Tinder Box" and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". As a teacher I go back to these stories again and again. And as a writer as well.
So I want to say to you Nina C, thank you. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and your heart all those years ago. Thank you for making me a reader and a writer. Just thanks.