THE VOICE OF REASON
When I was a child my world was simple. It consisted of my mother, my father, my brother, and baby sister, two friends, a quiet boy named Charlie Broshoe, and an audacious, pig-tailed girl, Pamela Wiley. I lived in a quiet neighborhood on Church street in a town of less than 5,000 people we saw on the street on our way to church, and whom passed by our car on the way to somewhere else. My mother introduced me to every part of it. She opened the door to let me out to explore the back yard, Church Street, and sometimes beyond whenever she got too busy to watch me, and I wandered further into neighborhoods with darker faces, non-existent smiles, and eyes that looked right through me as though I wasn’t there. I wondered even then why their world did not appear as bright as my own.
Later my mother opened books and read aloud to me. I met Jack the giant slayer, the three little pigs, and Hansel and Gretel. There was little David, who became a king after killing a giant, and Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, and another boy who returned after squandering his inheritance, and was given a party by his father welcoming him home. I hardly ever saw my father, except at supper when he came home and pounded his fist on the table yelling, where’s my supper, to my mother who scrambled about the kitchen to put food on the table fast enough to silence him before I started to cry.
My grandmother came and took me to the library when I was six, and taught me that there was more to life than what was taught in school about Dick and Jane, and their dog named Spot. I read Doctor Doolittle, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Oliver Twist before I was seven, and when we brought each book back the librarians, old spinsters with dull gray sweaters, and gaudy butterfly pins holding up their straw-like hair, all knew me by name. When my grandmother Mary asked me whether I learned anything from the books I was puzzled, weren’t the books about fun, and entertainment? I did not know that they taught lessons.
Literature, she said, is always illuminating. It educates the masses on what is wrong, and what is right in the world.
You mean just like the bible, mame? I asked. I always called her the short French version of mother.
Yes. She had said after a long thoughtful pause as though I had presented her with a serious question. Yes, it is. Truth comes in many forms. The trick is to figure it out.
It was then all of those fairy tales, bible stories, and even those dark sad faces that I had seen on the streets in cold neighborhoods began to make sense. The voice of reason began to resonate in my head. It had the sound of my mame, vibrant, and strong. I saw myself as Jack, and David in my everyday life standing up to a boss who had control over my world. I was no longer afraid to use my voice to speak for myself, and I was able to make a difference for women everywhere afraid to speak, and children who cried whenever the table was slammed by a domineering father demanding to be fed. Suddenly those dark sad faces on the street began to look at me, and not through me whenever I took a stand.
Understanding literature is when the voice of reason became my own.