I had always pictured my son and I reading together under a maple tree. Generally, nine-year-old boys would rather climb maple trees, yet I lived in hope. Then one day a few brief conversations with people on our street changed his view of reading, and my estimation of the value of neighbours.
Thane’s school was holding a read-a-thon fundraiser in support of its library. So after dinner we hit the street to ring doorbells, and dig up sponsors. Envelope in hand, off we went. On our tree-lined crescent in the ‘burbs lawnmowers droned, cardinals darted around the trimmed hedges and tulips stood on guard.
The first houses we approached were ones where we often went to borrow lawnmowers and eggs. We recognized their faces but didn’t know their last names, and they didn’t know ours. But we all ended up on the same street at the end of the day. And that made us more than acquaintances, but less than friends.
We were greeted with smiles, not to mention great donations. Thanks to Thane’s paper route everyone knew him. Despite having a lack of interest in reading, he promoted the fundraiser with genuine enthusiasm.
One neighbour, to whom we had waved many times, gave Thane a very generous donation. He explained to Thane, as an author, he always encourages reading. An author on our street? Who knew? We asked him question after question.
As we went from house to house we learned all about our neighbours’ favourite novels. We heard where they purchase books or whether they frequent the neighbourhood library. It seemed everyone we met was a reader and encouraged Thane to read. They told him how many books they’d read in the past week. They described how rewarding it was to complete a series of novels.
Finally, we headed for home. The widow across the street was just pulling in her driveway. Thane ran over, his envelope bulging with money. By the time I walked up Thane had already gone through his sales pitch and she. was reaching for her purse.
She was in her late fifties and I thought she might be an elementary school teacher. As she handed him the cash she asked him what he was planning on reading next. A Harry Potter novel, by J.K.Rowling, he said. She had read the series, too, and became animated as she insisted Thane read Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Her hands flew as she painted pictures with words.
They were a favourite of her son’s, she explained. Suddenly she grew quiet. She deflated, looked older and rubbed her eyes. Her son passed away in 2002 at age 28 of an undetected heart condition. Now she reads his Lord of the Rings novels, knowing her son read the same words, saw the same pictures in his mind. Her eyes, so full of life a moment before, were dull and red. She looked at Thane with a mixture of yearning and tenderness. I could tell, in my mother’s heart, that she longed to touch him. I thought she may regret revealing so much.
I thanked her for sharing her story with us. Thane was quiet, processing all the advice and information he’d learned in one short hour.
We learned several life lessons on our short walk. Reading is so much more than a hobby. It’s a passion. It’s a common denominator. And it’s a life preserver.
Vicki Morrison and her husband Chris are raising their three kids Thane, Caden, and Ava in the beautiful rural village of Osgoode, just south of Ottawa.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2012.