Saturday, March 6, 2010


Girl Reading--Eugen Spiro-1874-1972 Do you know how you have so much going on and there are small things that you mean to check on, but they slip through the cracks? Then you remember them again…then you forget them again…then you finally act on them.

I’m going to be vague here because I don’t want anyone losing their job over this.

My daughter goes to a particular activity that I drop her off for. At one point during this activity, she goes to a cafeteria for a snack. I do also pack a snack, but there are other things in the cafeteria that she’d like to eat from time to time.

This is the money-free 21st century, so she has a PIN code to punch in to pay for the snack in the cafeteria. I keep $25 in the account for her snacks.

About a month ago, she told me she’d forgotten her PIN. And, apparently, my house had eaten the piece of paper that the PIN was originally on. “Ask the cafeteria lady to look you up on her printout,” I said.

Several times during the last month I remembered to ask her if she’d gotten her PIN. “The lady says she can’t find me. I’m not in her book,” said my daughter with a The Grown-Up-Has-Spoken air.

I continued getting frustrated about this. I’ve put $25 in an account that no one can access?!

Finally, on Wednesday, after about a month of this, I decided to go to the cafeteria myself. I would help find the missing PIN.

I walked up, smiling, to the lady. I quickly explained the situation. “So let’s look up her number real quick,” I said briskly, nodding at the binder next to her.

She looked at me with a terrified face that froze me, although I didn’t understand why she was frightened. “Her last name?” she asked.


“Starting with the letter….?”


She opened the binder and flipped through the pages. She was in the Ps.

I was really puzzled now. “I’m sorry…it’s Craig. With a C.”

Again the scared look.

She carefully found the Cs and ran a finger down the page of CAs.

“It’s not here,” she said, looking at me.

If she’d turned a gun on me, I wouldn’t have been more shocked. She couldn’t read.

She wasn’t an English as a Second Language citizen. She was a native. And she was at least 45 years old. And she was functionally, if not completely, illiterate.

And I found that completely chilling.

“You know?” I said, “These printouts sometimes list folks all crazy and out of order. Could I…?” She handed me the binder, I found the CRs, and jotted down the PIN. As nice as I tried to be, we shared a look that meant that SHE knew that I knew that she couldn’t read. And that she’d been telling my daughter for a month that her name wasn’t in that binder to cover up for the fact.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I couldn’t imagine a world without books. My life revolves around books and writing. If I have any extra snippets of time, I’ve got my face in a book.

I know that Terry Odell is a literacy volunteer and my hat’s off to her. She’s opening up a new world to her students. One day, when I’m done volunteering for my children’s groups, I’d like to promote literacy and volunteer, too.

With all the talk and controversy of e-books versus printed books…what really matters is the reading. It’s the escape it provides and the worlds it opens up for us. Reading is the ultimate entertainment.

God help those of us who aren’t able to share in the pleasure.