Inheritance by Cindy Minnich and David Walthour
I have inherited many things from my father: a love of Monty Python, silly puns*, and books.
Oh, there have always been books around me for as long as I can remember. Books for me and my brother. Books for my dad. Books purchased and books borrowed.
Though my snarky sense of humor has served me well so far, I have long realized that the greatest thing Dad has ever given me is a love of reading.
Except he doesn’t think he can take credit for that all on his own.
He inherited that, too.
“My great-grandfather Alfred wasn’t a highly educated man – he was a coal miner and a carpenter when he came here from Sweden – but he collected books. A lot of them were from second-hand book sales. They had prices written in them. Or he’d pick them up from the free library in town and add them to his collection. I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia and The Return of Tarzan. His daughter – my grandmother – got a love of books and reading from him. She loved to read and always had books around. When she went blind, there were books on tape. The audio was never great, but she didn’t have to give up her books,” he told me as we chatted between visits from others last night.
I hadn’t thought about MorMor and her audiobooks for ages. They came in huge boxes with tapes that had four tracks – a left and right on each side so you had to adjust the stereo settings correctly to hear what happened next. I remember visiting overnight and hanging out with her while she listened. My grandmother was usually in her bedroom next door by that point with her own stack of books on her nightstand, paging through a novel before she’d fall asleep with it tented on her chest.
As he said, there wasn’t a chance he wouldn’t be a reader: “I’m sure that my mother’s love of reading came from her mother and her grandfather. And living with my grandparents and my mother surely made a difference – two of the three were avid readers. I don’t remember ever having a time in my life where books weren’t involved.”
But it wasn’t just that there were actual physical piles of books and other reading material around the house or that I saw my elders reading all the time. What stands out more clearly is that whatever we were reading was meant to be shared. My parents would read aloud to us when we were little, this practice extended far beyond that. Dad shared his reading in a public way from the pulpit each Sunday. Whatever novels and news articles and jokes from the Readers Digest that seemed relevant would make their way in as sermon illustrations. (These were always far preferable to the life of our household being sermon illustrations…) I had always thought he was doing all that reading for professional reasons…until I read a Jack Ryan book and realized that it didn’t really have much to do with religion after all.
On a smaller scale, Dad and Mom and my brother Matt and I were just in the routine of sharing aloud whatever we were reading that seemed interesting and important. Sometimes it would spark discussion, sometimes it just hung in the air – but the act of sharing was just part of the routine. What we read had life beyond the page. It was part of our world.
Not surprisingly, that has extended into my adulthood. I get phone calls from my dad reading me a passage and telling me where it came from. I have made more than a few of those calls myself (which, I am proud to say, have often led to him picking up books he might not otherwise have noticed). Sunday dinner doesn’t seem complete without one or more of these conversations.
Since it’s always been a part of my world, it became a part of my marriage and our parenting when we were finally blessed with our son. None of us are without books when we leave the house (some of us never without fewer than two physical books and a stack of digital ones) and the conversation about what we are reading never seems to stop.
But my dad’s contribution to my son’s reading hasn’t only been through passing his love of reading along to me to pass on to him. They have had the Breakfast Book Club for every single school day since my now fourth-grade son started pre-school. He’d come over and make Bryson breakfast and they would start reading. It began as a way to keep him moving, a bribe to get him out of bed, but it has grown into a beautiful shared experience. They have read and cried over The One and Only Ivan, read through every page of Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac many times, enjoyed all of Barbara O’Connor’s books, the Norvelt books by Jack Gantos, all of the Wizard of Oz books and they are currently on the last of the Narnia books. They have ventured into non fiction on occasion, reading a huge National Geographic book on the Middle Ages that caught B’s eye at one point as well as some other titles on random topics here and there. It’s gotten harder for Dad to read them over the last few weeks, but they are both patient as he stops to catch his breath and continue on.
Bryson brought their current read with him to the hospital the other day to take the opportunity to read to his PopPop as they visited, not because my father couldn’t read for himself, but because this act is so tied to how they show their love for one another.
And so it is, this love of words among us. I love that we have inherited it from farther back than we can trace. I love that it will continue farther on than I can imagine.
David Walthour is a retired German Reformed Pastor and an avid, omnivorous reader.
Cindy Minnich is lucky enough to live the charmed life of a high school English teacher, mom to one future librarian, wife to a fellow reader, and daughter to David Walthour. She can be found on Twitter as @cbethm, on web at http://www.chartingbythestars.com, and in real life on her princess chair enjoying a book and a cup of coffee.
*He may have spit out his coffee at the way we misheard “Lead On, O King Eternal” as “Lead on, oh kinky turtle.”