Wednesday, January 19, 2011

36 things list: What the frock?

As a child, books were a huge part of my life; so much so that as punishment for bad behavior, I would actually be grounded from reading. When other parents would hear this, they would look at my mother as if she had sprouted an extra head.

“You take away her books?”

My mother would reply rather flippantly, “You ground your kid from what, the television? Have you ever heard of a child deciding that they enjoyed their week without television so much that they give it up? I didn’t think so. I know what I’m doing.”

And she really did know what she was doing. I would read during dinner, in the car on the way to & from school, even while walking. I took more than a tumble or two because I wasn’t watching where I was going.

As part of my '36 Things List', I reread a couple of my favorite children’s books: Dancing Shoes & Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfield. Most of the books in this series involve children facing some trying family circumstances who are subsequently enrolled in a dancing school or some other fun activity to take their mind off of the challenges in their world. As a child with a terminally ill parent, I really lost myself in the books. They were written in the 1940’s & set in England, which seemed like another planet to a kid growing up in rural southwestern Arkansas. My mom was already at her wits end taking care of my father while trying to raise two little girls. I drove her insane with my constant barrage of questions, which were typically shouted to her from another room:

“MOM… What’s a sixpence?”

“WHAT?” she would shout back from the sink where she was scrubbing dishes.

“A sixpence. How much money is that in England?”

“I have no idea.”

“How long is a fortnight?”

“What? I don’t know.”

“MOM, what does frock mean?”

(This one really got her attention.)

“WHAT did you say?”

“Frock. What is a frock? I think it might be some sort of clothes.”

“Oh…” she sounded relieved. “Frock. I’m not sure.”

Shortly after that last exchange she came home with a dictionary for me, which I promptly inscribed with my name & carried everywhere.

Unfortunately for mom, the dictionary idea backfired. That dictionary gave me power. As an eight-year-old, I could now spell every word in the English language. More specifically, I could now corner my weary mother in the kitchen & open the dictionary to any page, level my eyes at her over the book & demand that she spell ‘hackneyed’ or ’ichthyologic’.

Poor woman. No wonder she grounded me from books.

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