I have two very old books in my library – my first grade reading book, Our New Friends (remember Dick, Jane and Spot?), and One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Neither one has any monetary value. Our New Friends is falling apart with a good dozen or more pages either ripped or torn out, something that I had no part in. The book of poems shows extensive wear, and the cover was once colored by a five-year-old – ME.
|FIRST GRADE READER
I have a copy of the children’s book because I was able to take it home – the same day I came down with the measles. It became my property because the Broad Street School in Plainville, Connecticut, refused to take back a potentially contaminated book. However, no one ever caught the measles from it.
I can still remember my stay at home, licking a Sugar Daddy on a stick, reclining on the couch with my legs extended against the back and my feet touching the wall. I wiggled my toes against the wallpaper and scratched my back against the course surface. My mother never scolded me, one of the joys of being sick. And oh, that caramel pop was a wonderful treat. Those recollections come back full force every time I see that book.
The book of poems belonged to my mother, a treasure from her grammar school days. Reading poems with her was often a highlight in my young life and helped encourage my desire to read. On many occasions I memorized a few of them. I particularly liked “The Spider and the Fly” by Mary Howitt. All the poets had a cameo portrait next to their work. “Trees” was another poem I liked because it was simple and easy to remember. Sergeant Joyce Kilmer wore a WWI helmet in his picture.
A good thirty years after learning the poem, I ended up in Mahwah, New Jersey, 600 hundred feet across from the Joyce Kilmer Grammar School. The Kilmer family had lived on Airmount Road, less than a mile from my house. Someone pointed it out to me, and I saw many trees that might have provided his inspiration. And yes, both of my children were required to learn the poem at school.