Oh how I loved my oldest sister, Ruth Anne. She came home from the corner drugstore and presented me with another Little Golden Book, for no reason at all. Ruthie took me with her to the downtown library when I was too young to have a card. She helped me climb the little step stool to peer inside the glass enclosed two-story Victorian doll house, complete with attic. I loved seeing the seasonal changes; a miniature turkey on dinning room table was a favorite.
As soon as I mastered Dick, Jane, See, Spot, Run I was off and running, or is that reading? I would read an entire Dick and Jane Reader the day it was issued to my class. Then I would be bored as the teacher taught each day’s lesson. In third grade the teacher sat me in the hallway with a new student from Germany. I was to help teach her to read. That makes me laugh when I think about it now. She did not speak much English and I certainly knew no German. How did I manage to help her?
My sister Ruth continued adding to my library with Bobbsey Twin books. After reading those, I read all her and sister, Susan’s Nancy Drew Mysteries. Then I started on brother’s Hardy Boy series. I read a brother’s science Fiction magazines. I read my mother’s Horoscope magazines and my father’s Reader’s Digests. A favorite childhood book Ruthie gave me was A Book of Saints. She instilled a love of reading that began with those Little Golden Books which continues to this day.
Ruthie loved reading also. As I made my way through her extensive home library, I began noticing words blacked out in her novels. I asked her why. She said they were bad words, like hell or darn. It annoyed me. Sentences seemed incomplete and I was dying of curiosity as to what bad word was used. That may have been a forbearing of things to come.
It was late 1980s; Ruthie was still gifting me with reading material. The difference being these materials cost less than the twenty-five cents Little Golden Books she used to give me. She added my name to store catalog mailing lists and a religious magazine Focus on the Family. I enjoyed reading the religious magazine right up until they published a books to burn, I mean, ban list.
My favorite book at the time, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker was on the list. I threw the magazine in the trash, called Ruthie and told her not to subscribe me to her free magazine anymore. She said she did not care that I did not want the publication in my home, she would continue to send the yearly subscription my way.
Ruthie sent me a copy of her published Letter To The Editor. She told readers to contact their libraries to ban TheColor Purple because it was offensive. I asked Ruthie if she read the book. She had not. I asked her how she can could say a book was offensive if she did not read it. Focus on the Family told her and she took their word for it. I told her that I had read the book which is a fictional account of an all too real reality for many abused children and women.
We bickered back and forth, each trying to convince the other she was wrong. I suggested she watch the movie Footloose which is, among other things, about burning books a minister found objectionable. Our rift over a banned book eroded a once loving sibling relationship.
A love of reading and books was not the only happy memory from childhood. Ruthie taught me to bake cakes and cookies. She got me started on pen pals, taught me to make paper dolls, to design their outfits or draw outer space people. We went to church together, even walking in a blizzard to get there. I learned to jitterbug and polka by dancing with my older sisters.
I wish this story had a happy ending, but it does not. The rift that began over a banned book created a chasm that deepened in time. She could believe that Alice Walker and The Color Purple were evil born of the devil; I could not. That difference affected every interaction as she tried to force me to change my beliefs to suit herself. I found no way to bridge the gap between us, except to cut off communication completely.
It made me sad that Ruth Anne forgot how to giggle, laugh, and enjoy each others company as we did during our growing up years. I did not feel bad that we did not speak during her last two years on earth. The choice to allow me to be me was hers to make. She choose not to accept me as I am.
September 25 – October 2, 2010 is Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read. Visit the American Library Association for more information.