April 05


Names by Connie Wanek

Once there was a child of six. No, seven. She had just had a birthday, and it was better, being seven. She was already thinking about what eight would be like.

She loved all animals, and her father had brought home a blue birthday parakeet for her. It had no name yet. She like to think about names, to ponder the gift of a name before she bestowed one upon any creature.

She had been watching for her father’s car on the gravel driveway. He worked all day, while school was her job. The sun was low in the sky when she saw the flash of light on the windshield, and the glint on the golden birdcage, and the dark shape of a man’s head and shoulders silhouetted against the bright west. Dad.

Let’s call this girl Connie, not a great name—her father had named her after his favorite childhood teacher. Fair enough. But maybe someday she would change it to a prettier name like “Celeste.”

Let’s change it right now, shall we?

Celeste. Why? Because it reminded her of the sky, of starlight. If we need a reason.

Celeste and her two sisters and one brother lived in a very old farmhouse near Duck Creek in Wisconsin. They called this place “the farm,” though they were not farmers. Home was five acres, house, barn, dogs, cats, horses, garden. Parakeet.

Every week their mother took them to the big city library in Green Bay and they checked out ten books each (4×10=40). The children started reading right on the way home, crowded into the back seat like a litter of puppies. And long before the next library trip, the children had finished reading their books, and even some of those that had been chosen by their siblings. Books!

Animal stories like Big Red and The Island Stallion. Adventures like Treasure Island. Mysteries that Trixie Belden solved with her bravery and her flashlight. Two hard covers, and inside—whole worlds, intact, shapely.

Reading wasn’t something that made Celeste a different person, a Connie, for instance. If she were a jigsaw puzzle, reading was like the four corner pieces, as important as north, south, east, and west. She read the way a parakeet chirps, the way a pony whinnies for grain. The way the wind blows, not because it wants to, but because it’s wind. A little bit of magic came with reading books, too. It was the idea, strange at first, that she might also, someday, maybe, be able to actually write a book. People did. There weren’t just titles on the book spines; there were also author names.

When Celeste got older, she was just Connie again, of course. But reading was still a part of who she was and always would be. The truth is she got a job at a library when she grew up. The children who came in for books, and left with their arms full, reminded her every day of Celeste, and how important books could be in a person’s life.

Once you can read, it’s almost impossible to remember when you couldn’t. Go ahead…try not reading this.

Connie Wanek is a grandmother now. She has written some books and still loves animals. Names still take a long time to think of, but there are so many names in the world, more all the time.