The Queen of Palmyra

Meanwhile Eva was charging out of the house every morning loaded down with books and magazines and pamphlets.  She had a determined look in her.  I thought all grown-ups knew how to read.  I thought it was like walking on your own two feet and using the commode.  The stories just grabbed you and you just fell into them after a while, which is what had happened to me when Grandpops read to me.  It was a mystery to me how I’d learned to read, but one day I just started reading along with Grandpops, surprising us both.  That’s just it, Eva said with a gleam in her eyes that matched the rhinestones on her glasses, you had to get somebody to teach you, to facilitate.  Literacy wasn’t like a piece of my mama’s lemon cake you handed over to somebody on a plate.  And if nobody at home could read, you had to learn in school, but some people had to quit school and go to work before they learned what they needed to know.  So they needed extra help to get caught up.

Eva said that literacy wasn’t just about stories; it was about structure and logic and how words belonged to each other.  One afternoon she and Ray were sitting at the table working on his vocabulary.  Ray’d told Eva he wanted more words.  Since she’d been in town, he’d started reading the old newspapers and Saturday Evening Posts Zenie brought home from work; now he’d pilfered The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Eva.  She caught me hovering in the doorway between the kitchen and living room trying to pick up as much of the lesson as I could.

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