Saturday, October 5, 2013
My parents made me a reader
by April Henry
This a reworking of something I posted in May 2012. On October 1, my mother, Nora Mirle Meeker Henry, died at home on hospice. I thought I was ready. She was ready, our family was at peace, she chose when she wanted to die, she died peacefully.
I thought I was ready. I was wrong. I have been bobbing along in the tides of grief since then.
I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for my parents.
My dad taught me to read when I was little - by the age of three, according to family lore. I still remember being shown white flashcards with a letter on one side and an image on the other - like an A and the word “apple.” Those flashcards called to me. They seemed magical.
My parents were big readers. Books were scattered throughout the house, and they were fine with us reading whatever we picked up. It could be Tess of the D’ubervilles (they had a set of paperback classics) or pop fiction. I still remember the shock I felt reading The Godfather in sixth grade - people could have sex standing up!
It was my parents who told me that if I really liked an author, I could write him or her care of his or her publisher (aside: kids of today, please use the Internet - so much faster for you and the author!). When I was 11, I sent Roald Dahl, care of his American publisher, a story I had written. Somehow that story made it over to England and Dahl wrote me back.
When I started to write seriously, my very conservative father read sexually detailed stories starring thinly disguised versions of myself without too much flinching. And I’ve always counted on my mom to give me honest feedback (although I will admit I like the praise much more than the alternative).
When I first got published, my dad gave me several writing books he had had since the 1950s, includingCharacters Make Your Story. That’s when I learned that he had once dreamed of being a novelist himself, before three kids and 60-hour weeks as a TV newsman got in his way.
My dad died in 2003 from Alzheimers. As the disease slowly stole his memory, he still would ask me how “the book” was going, although he no longer actually remembered which book it was. I remember him turning the pages of Time magazine without really comprehending it. The idea of reading was too engrained for him to give it up.
Until she died this week at the age of 78, my mom was still a big reader. Reading was her purest pleasure, and I tried to keep her supply topped up. Some recent reads include: Behind the Beautiful Forevers; The Gift of Fear; all of The Game of Thrones books; If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, and The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband, and all of the Game of Thrones books.
I ended that last essay by saying, "When I grow up, I want to be like my parents." I guess I now am grown up. But I don't feel grown up. I feel more than a little lost. If anyone has suggestions for what could help - especially for books that might - I would welcome them.