I can't remember a time when I could not read. Neither do I remember being taught to read; one day I just could, and did, and have continued to do so, for about 70 years. The first book that I truly remember was one used in the kindergarten class I attended in El Paso, TX, in 1939. Bi-lingual education in the USA is nothing new, folks. My kindergarten primer was in Spanish and was titled Juan y Maria en Casa.
Our family moved to Las Vegas, NM, where I completed the first grade. Shortly thereafter, during the early summer of 1942, we moved to the much larger town of Albuquerque so that my mother could seek employment, my 55 year old father having been conscripted by the U.S. Army to be an instructor of automotive mechanics almost immediately after Dec. 7, 1941. That's another story for another time.
By the summer before I turned 9, I was spending my school vacation time in the Albuquerque Public Library. Albuquerque was still a relatively small town at the time, and it was quite safe for me to walk alone for the some 8 or so blocks from where we lived. I would stay at the library for as long as it took me to select as many books as I could carry (6 -10) from the children's section (and they weren't "picture-books," either); then I'd lug them back home and read. And read, and read, and read. My two younger sisters and my brother were being cared for by a housekeeper/baby-sitter, and I'm sure she was most happy to not have me under her feet as well.
In a day, two at the most, I'd be finished with those books and back to the library I'd go for another load. Before we moved (1944) to a new home about five miles from the library, I think I had read every book (of any interest to me whatsoever) in the children's section. The librarian also allowed me to browse in some carefully selected sections outside the children's area, and helped me select books that were not 'too adult' for me.
After we moved, I didn't have easy access to the library so I read my mother's books. I remember that she was quite flustered when she found me reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith -- promiscuity, several stillborn babies, and like ilk; Mama did not think I needed to read about that when I was 10 years old. However, I don't think she took it away from me. Truthfully, I don't remember much about it. It must not have warped my psyche too badly.
My father had a very large number of books, which were stored in boxes in our garage since there was not sufficient bookshelf space in our new home for them. Most were theological tomes from his days at Seminary and books of a religious nature he acquired while he was an active church pastor. I think I must have attempted to read some of them (readers must have books), but they were not the sort of thing that would hold a young girl's attention for very long, I'm sure. However, he did have some books of poetry (notably The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), some Shakespeare plays, and a few other non-theological books that I did read.
At that age, however, I was more interested in Carolyn Keene's 'Nancy Drew' books, and novels such as Lew Wallace's Ben Hur, Lloyd C. Douglas' The Robe, Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal, and The Magnificent Obsession. NOTE TO MY READERS: If all you know about The Magnificent Obsession is the 1954 film staring Rock Hudson, do yourself a big favor: Read the book! And Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal, which is directly related to The Magnificent Obsession. They're a pair.
To be continued. Part Two: in which we move from Albuquerque to a small Arkansas town, population 400 (if you count the cows), and my literary and vocabulary education continues.
PLEASE NOTE: The spider web photo is not mine. I got it from a Wikipedia article on Spider Webs. The photographer is Michael Hartl, and the photo is in the public domain. For a more close-to-home, and beautiful, photo of a spider web, check out Dot's blog, Strolling through Georgia (and sometimes Alabama), here.