As the screen door slammed behind his back, my dad proclaimed with a calm sense of determination, “That will never cause a problem in our family again!”
I sat with my three siblings on our orange shag carpet looking up in disbelief at the empty, wooden table that once held our beloved black and white television. My dad was upset that we didn’t listen to his request to go to bed, so he had simply walked over, picked up the television and carried it out to his pickup truck sitting on our red, dirt driveway. We never saw it again.
Our world ended…or so it seemed.
My parents had recently bought an old farm house on one hundred acres of land in rural Arkansas. The farm was on a gravel road and had orchards, an old barn, an ancient cypress laden creek, grassy fields, and wildlife and birds that carried on with their lives without being bothered by my little girl antics. I had a secret fallen tree in the woods where I read my books, leaves rustling above my head and woodpeckers hammering on the trees.
Reading was a big part of my life. While my parents rid our lives of television, they filled our lives with books. They made every effort to bring books into our home. They bought books at yard sales, Scholastic Book sales, and mail order. We had subscriptions to Highlights, Ranger Rick, National Geographic, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and local and state newspapers. They bought sets of encyclopedias and book collections about people and cultures of the world. We read it all.
The only lie I ever heard my mother tell was when she lied to the librarian (about where we lived) in a nearby town so we could get a library card because our town had no library. I remember looking up at the exchange with great astonishment. After that day, she took us there as often as possible, and I remember her teaching me not to judge a book by its unattractive cover, a lesson that had a bigger meaning I would learn.
My favorite childhood memory is sitting around an old wood burning stove at night listening to my father read, with great expression, classic children’s literature. I lived vicariously though the characters, and the settings in the stories carried me to far away lands. I learned that people were very different than myself, and I ached to live a life of adventure. I knew there was a big world out there, and I was determined to see it all.
My parents never took us on a real vacation, and I remember the sadness I felt every year when school began and the teacher allowed the children to tell where they had traveled over the summer. “One day,” I would tell myself.
When I was in high school, I went to Washington D.C. with my government teacher. I had never been through an airport or to a big city, so it was a new experience for me. Once we arrived, my teacher immediately took our group of seven down to the subway and taught us how to buy a ticket and how to orient ourselves to the map on the wall. He then turned to us and said, “My only rule is that you always stay with a friend.” He then turned us loose, and off we went to discover the museums and sites. I finally felt grownup, full of freedom and independence. I’ve often thought of Mr. Kennemur and how he changed my life that day. He would be proud to know that I have taken hundreds of subway rides around the world.
I am older now, and I travel often. Looking back on my life, I am beyond grateful for a childhood free of the constant distraction of television and for the astute parents I had who knew what I truly needed. I am one of the lucky ones to have had so many books put in my little hands that gave me a preview of the world. I’ve seen the most splendid places and had travel experiences that I will always cherish. The farm was just the beautiful beginning.