I don’t know why I write. Isn’t that crazy? To spend so much energy doing something and not to know why. Why does anyone write? To be clear, I don’t have to write. My job doesn’t depend on it. I don’t get paid to do it.
There is a direct correlation between reading and writing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And I’m a prolific reader. Which is how the story of the F-word dinner begins.
When I was little, like little little, I wanted to read. I was blessed with two parents who were always reading, so I was surrounded by words. When I turned 4 years old, I wanted to learn how to read. I learned to recognize the words “yes” and “no.” SO EXCITING. I would pore through books and pick those two words out.
Finally, first grade arrived. Which was a rather harrowing experience for me. But the first day of first grade I climbed up the steps of the school bus, excited because I was going to read.
My mother told me, although I don’t remember this, that when she anxiously met the bus in the afternoon I was crying hysterically. Heaven knows what she thought happened. She said that in between gulps and sobs, I told her I didn’t learn how to read. That everyone lied to me. I was told I would go to school and learn how to read. And I didn’t.
But I quickly learned and read and read and read. In second grade I was looking at the New York Times and asked my mother who Crushchief was. She looked at the paper and said oh his name is Khrushchev. And tried to explain to 7-year-old me why his name was in big letters in the newspaper.
I’m not bragging about how good of a reader I was and still am. It’s just my one really good skill. I was the last one picked for a team in gym. Every. Single. Time. I know my strength is not in athletics.
Here’s a good example. First grade in 1959 was not like it is now. We had snack time with milk and graham crackers or animal crackers. Then naptime on blue mats that were stacked in the corner of the classroom. The other kids closed their eyes and drifted away…..or would have except I couldn’t shut up. I wasn’t tired, I’m not good at resting and I love to talk.
Finally, without knowing this would be the Crime-Of-The-Century in my house, I was sent to the principal. I vividly remember sitting in the chair in front of him and swinging my feet because they didn’t reach the floor. He asked me why I wouldn’t stop talking. Well that was an easy question. Because I always want to talk. Then he asked me what I wanted to do because I wasn’t allowed to talk and I didn’t want to nap. Another easy question.
So every day at naptime I dragged my chair and book to the hallway and happily read until I was told I could return to class.
I wasn’t allowed to read Nancy Drew books until 2nd grade. Maybe my mother should have held off another year or two. I’m still almost certain that there is someone hiding under my bed and in the attic with a secret clock.
Reading was my escape, provided my adventures, held problems at bay. Reading held the mystery and then surprise of new words and the ability to try out these new words.
Which brings me to the F-word dinner.
Walking home from the bus stop one afternoon in 2nd grade, I stopped at this little bridge where the road went over a tiny stream, because someone had painted a big word on the side of the bridge. Painted in blue. A new word. An unknown word. I practiced it over and over. I had no clue what it meant.
And in the middle of dinner, as my brother was lifting his fork to his mouth, I said FUCK.
The fork dropped.
Total silence. I looked around the room smiling……until…….I realized……..uh oh.
One of my parents yelled “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT” and then yelled at my 14-year-old brother “DID YOU TEACH HER THAT?” As he was looking at me horrified and saying he swore he didn’t teach me that, I was flabbergasted. Little Miss Literal.
“Why do you think someone taught me that? Why do you think I heard it? I read it!”
And there you have it. The F-Word Dinner.
This is why I’m compelled to write.