Creative Nonfiction Prompt #49

in The Ink Well5 months ago

We had no books at home. No magazines or newspapers. Nothing to read, except maybe the words on a cereal box. This literacy lacuna was filled one afternoon in the most serendipitous way.

I was walking with my brothers and sisters through a small wood that was adjacent to our yard. We came upon a clearing, and in that clearing was a shack, a crude structure without doors or windows. No child can resist such an exotic attraction and neither could we. Though we never saw strangers in the woods around our property, still we knew these people existed, so we approached the mysterious shack cautiously.

Shack: Adapted from LIL Gallery Images
shack for inkwell lunapic2.png
Credit @redheadpei, Building; @doriangel Forest Scene; @redheadpei Red Roof

Our reward was rich and immediate. Besides spiders, moss and mold we found a trove of comic books. Strewn about the floor in piles, the comic covers beckoned. There we found Superman, Archie, Spiderman. I'd never seen a comic book before. In short order we had collected the books that were not moldy and carried them back to our house.

It was the start of summer recess. For the rest of the summer I would spend nights and rainy days reading the comics. When I'd read them all I'd start over. My favorites were the Archie comics. Veronica, Jughead, Betty--these characters all came to life for me.

I had just finished the third grade. Reading was a new adventure. For the first and second grades reading skills had eluded me. When I entered the third grade, as my teacher wrote to my mother, I was 'doing poorly'.

That teacher was Mrs. Birdsall and she wrote the note in November. Mrs. Birdsall was a remarkable woman. I can see her now on the playground, with her skirt billowing about her tall, thin frame. I can see her in front of the blackboard, illustrating why some words take a double consonant when adding a suffix and some words don't.

"The short vowel is weak, and needs protection from the 'ing' monster, so it doubles the consonant. The long vowel is strong and can defend itself against the monster 'ing'."

To this day I remember the 'monster' lesson. Mrs. Birdsall used logic to reach her students. She taught me phonics. It was the first time anyone explained to me that words could be logical. Logic works really well with me. It's my language. It's the reason I would fall in love with geometry one day. It's the reason I excelled at sentence diagramming in middle school.

Mrs. Birdsall not only spoke my language, but she did so with empathy. Before I entered her class I had lost interest in school. It was a dark place I was forced to go each day, a kind of prison sentence. I didn't care what was going on most of the time.

When I graduated from Mrs. Birdsall's class, I was at the head of my grade. I remember walking into the classroom in June and interrupting the two first grade teachers as they reviewed the final reading scores. They both looked at me in amazement because I had tied with one other student for highest score.

But then I went home for the summer, with nothing to read, nothing to reinforce my new skill. This is why the shack was a miracle, the kind of miracle that influences the course of a life.

It's hard to say which was a more powerful factor in my academic progress--Mrs. Birdsall or the comics. Probably Mrs. Birdsall, but together these two elements set me on a path that led to success, to college scholarships, to a productive work life.

Would I even be on Hive, if I hadn't met Mrs. Birdsall and if I hadn't spent a whole summer reading? It's hard to see how that would have happened. It was a critical moment in my education.

Acquiring reading skill and reading fluency has discernible effects on the brain. It is associated with an increase in grey matter volume. It also correlates with enhanced development of areas critical to analysis and higher executive function.

There is no question that with my new skills, my performance in school overall improved dramatically. Was this because my brain was working better, or because I had more tools with which to tackle school work? Impossible to say. What is certain is that reading made the difference.

The prompt that inspired me to write this piece is 'influence'. Many events and people have positively influenced my life. My mother above all else, of course. My uncle John and Aunt Anna. My many dear cousins. My brothers and sisters. But it's hard to find one moment, one nexus upon which the rest of my life seemed to depend, except for that moment when I learned to read.

I thank Mrs. Birdsall for being a great teacher, and I thank whomever it was that left all those comics. Wherever you are, I hope your fortunes improved as mine did with your anonymous gift.

accent  black and red tiny.png

I thank the Inkwell staff for offering an evocative prompt. I also thank @redheadpei and @doriangel from the LMAC community for contributing the lovely pictures that went into making my shack illustration.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge an article from National Institutes of Health from which I cited information about reading and brain development


Your piece is heartfelt and enlightening! You beautifully illustrate the profound impact of education and literacy in a person's life. You say "reading made the difference" and I couldn't agree more. Your journey from a home without reading materials to the discovery of comic books in a shack is a testament to this.

Reading always makes a difference and a big one at that! Reading is my favourite thing to do and it changed my life, shaping me into who I am today.

...I had lost interest in school. It was a dark place I was forced to go each day, a kind of prison sentence.

You capture the experience of some people perfectly here! This was my life as a young girl until I discovered the joy of reading thanks to my Dad. Luckily, you had Mrs Birdsall. I couldn't help expressing my thanks for her as I read. She was a remarkable teacher and there are very few like her. I see many people struggle through school and would have turned out okay if only they had someone like Mrs Birdsall.

A truly inspiring piece! Thanks for sharing and have a great day. 🌻 !LUV

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You capture the experience of some people perfectly

I have heard this before. When we are very young, we tend to think we are unique--nothing like what we experience has ever happened to anyone. As we grow older, we realize how much we do have in common with so many people. It's just not evident.

When I became a teacher (for just a few years) I carried that memory with me. There was never a student in my class who didn't shine. They were all stars in one way or another, and I let them know that :)

Thanks for your kind, insightful comment, @kemmyb. I would have guessed that you loved reading

It’s definitive moments like these that alter the course of a life! You’re more than aware of the kind of life you might’ve had if not for your wonderful teacher and a derelict house full of comics.
Although my house was always full of books and I learned to read at my mother’s knee (Enid Blyton, mostly), I also had “that” teacher, she was a nun at the convent I attended, called Sister Bulldog.
I loved every minute of this nostalgic, poignant read! ❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️😁😁

Thank you for those kind words.

My mother read to us when we were very, very young. I remember her reading from Bre'er Rabbit. I don't know where she found the time. You know we were six kids, all born with a six-year span. One brother had suffered brain trauma at birth. He was profoundly disabled, a paraplegic and no control of his swallowing muscles. She cared for him alone, without husband or help of any kind. She used to feed him with great tenderness by mashing food and slowly easing it between his lips. Three meals a day!!. She loved to read and when I got older helped me to study. But in those early years...she was heroic just keeping us alive. And she did it with great love.

Your mom was amazing 🤩 Much luv! ❤️💕❤️💕

I would one day fall in love with geometry.

I can't imagine that happening to me

Mrs. Birdsall is a hero even if she doesn't know it.
In life you just need the right motivation to move forward.
My motivation for my advancement was a religion back then.
(Now I live in disappointment of it)
What motivates me now is money, my cats, my small family and my outlook on life.
I hope you stay motivated

I can't imagine that happening to me


I know! Who would expect such a thing? I was not what they call a math person, and yet geometry--it came as naturally to me as breathing.

Mrs. Birdsall is a hero even if she doesn't know it.

Yes! She would never have thought of herself in those terms, but she was. In those days I lived in a farm community. During harvest the class would swell with migrant workers' children to 40 or more. She divided us into groups, and tailored lessons to all our needs. She was quite a woman

Thanks so much for your kind comment. I think many of us become disillusioned with the religious orthodoxy we grew up with. At least you are still motivated and I really like the stuff that motivates you.

Me too, including the cat 😇

Thank you for your comment my dear 🍷.
🍷 I'll drink it in your name

This is so inspiring, @agmoore. I think it's easy for people to give up on reading, or learning, or school, if it doesn't seem to resonate in the early years. But there are so many opportunities for things to click. Kids need something or someone to inspire them and provide that avenue forward. Thankfully you had both!

It was the first time anyone explained to me that words could be logical. Logic works really well with me. It's my language. It's the reason I would fall in love with geometry one day. It's the reason I excelled at sentence diagramming in middle school.

You and I have always connected about literature, and now I know that we are a kind of yin and yang. I wish I was adept at that technical side of it. I have a natural ear for grammar, but if required to diagram a sentence, I would prefer a hot poker in the eye! It just goes to show you that that are several good ways to approach this craft!

Hi @jayna,

Thanks for that comment. My mother always pushed education and learning, but she didn't have the tools to teach me. I remember that same year we had a spelling bee in Mrs. Birdsall's class and my mother went over the list of words with me until I knew it by heart (the vocabulary list at the back of our class reader!).

I won that spelling bee, and give my mother credit.

Yes, you and I do meet over our love of literature. I'm not technical (nothing like @yaziris and @istostylish), however there is a little piece of my brain that loves pure logic. Crazy, isn't it? Even when I evaluate a piece of writing, I love it when the clear logic of a piece stands out.

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

So much in life is a matter of chance, coincidence and luck. It was sheer luck that you discovered those old comics in that derelict house. It was pure chance that you found a teacher that “discovered” you. However, no amount of luck, chance or coincidence affords us the opportunity to make the most of circumstance—that you did all by yourself.
Totally wonderful read!

Thank you!

that you did all by yourself.

No really, I didn't. It was more luck. I was lucky that the lessons took hold. I was lucky that nature gave me the resources to exploit the opportunity offered by the comics and Mrs. Birdsall. But so many kids try really hard, and they just can't surge forward. That is a matter of luck, and I don't deserve credit for being lucky so many times 😆

I appreciate having the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with this lovely community. Thank you!

I took from your writeup to remember to be grateful for the people who left a positive influence on us and made us better people. Sometimes it’s a kindness they do that leaves a lasting impression.

School was a dark uninteresting place for me where academics were concerned. I did enjoy sports like basketball and managed to graduate. Teachers like your Mrs. Birdsall would have made a difference.

Reading was not encouraged in the home unless it was about school assignments. I was not allowed to read any of those true stories the other girl’s mothers let them have. This left me very naive for I had no idea about the carrying on that goes on in the world. Must have been my Catholic upbringing. 😊 Didn’t have to worry about witnessing sex, etc on the tv as we didn’t have one. I attribute all this restrictions because I was the oldest in the family. By the time my siblings came along I don’t think anyone had the energy to worry about what they read or watched on TV.

Thanks A.G. for using my lil shack image and making it look so enchanted. 😊

The experiences of our young lives are so similar in many ways, my friend @redheadpei. From the rural background, to the love of animals. Even the absence of TV. That didn't come into my life until much later. TVs weren't so common then.

Although, I wasn't the oldest child. I was a middle child. I think it helped to make me rebellious, independent. I chafed against the role (insignificant 😄) to which my birth order assigned me.

I remembered your shack image when I was looking for an appropriate structure. Yours had snow on the roof and since it was summer, that had to go. Fortunately, you had another structure with a great red roof. Thanks a lot🌻

I appreciate your comment, as always. Have a peaceful weak my friend.

Interesting how much teachers influence our development, but only a few seem to be prominent in our memories. The other conundrum is that if you were to meet these same teachers now, you'd probably question their beliefs and methods. The student eventually surpasses the master. Young people nowadays are lucky, or perhaps unlucky, to have access to such a wealth of expertise offline and online. In a few years, they'll be reminiscing about the time they were in chat forum and some internet stranger changed their lives forever. I enjoyed reading about your experience in those pre-internet days, which seem so innocent

Young people nowadays are lucky, or perhaps unlucky, to have access to such a wealth of expertise offline and online.

Not everyone. We certainly wouldn't have had access to a computer or high speed Internet in my home. We often didn't have a telephone or working television. We didn't even have a radio until I was in the 5th grade. I didn't enter a public library until I was almost twelve and we had moved to NYC.

I was fortunate to meet that woman. She was extraordinary. My oldest brother was in her class. He fell ill that year and missed most of the years. She came to the house to teach him (no pay) so he wouldn't lose the year and be left back.

I think I'd remember her if I met her today. I don't think her politics or beliefs would matter. She was remarkable.

Thanks for your comment. Always interesting. Different perspectives reflect different times, different ages.

Ability to read and comprehend is a prerequisite for learning any subject including arithmetic. I give kudos to teachers that help pupils acquire reading skills. I can't forget the teacher that helped me in my formative years.

Mrs. Birdsall not only spoke my language, but she did so with empathy.

That's amazing. Her efforts couple with the comic books made the difference. Kudos to her.

I can't forget the teacher that helped me in my formative years.

It is wonderful that you have that. A gift to her and a gift to you.

Thanks very much for reading and comment, @lightpen

You are welcome.

Despite my mom being a teacher when I was a kid, I wouldn't say she had that much of an impact on influencing my interest in reading.

For me it was more of an auto-didactic behavior, which stemmed out of my endless curiosity about everything. And ofcourse an old attic that had plenty of very dusty books, which I used to sneak into and spend hours and hours in, until it lost its magic and I eventually started buying some books.

Thanks for this wonderful read that sparked some good memories for me.

Hello dear friend @yaziris,

You've spoken about the great books you have read in your home. What a treasure. My first library experience (besides the comics) didn't happen until I was in the sixth grade. We moved to Brooklyn, NY. The library was a little less than a mile away. Wow, what a discovery. I made that walk so many times. I scoured the shelves. Although I was in the sixth grade, I browsed the adult shelves and read everything.

Libraries, whether at home or outside are precious. My favorite places.

Thanks for reading and stopping to make your lovely comment. Stay well and be peaceful my friend.

It is intriguing looking back to remember people who have influenced our lives positively through their impact. You are lucky to have met the teacher that shaped your lifestyle.

Thank you! Yes I was and it's a pleasure to share my experience with the community. Thanks for stopping by.

There are people who have a strong influence on us and based on that we develop personally. Fortunately, your influence marked your life for the better and made you what you are now. Much deserved thanks to your teacher.

Beautiful reading.
Thanks for sharing.
Good day.

I had many positive influences in my life (and a few negative😄). I wish every child had my good fortune.

Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment, @rinconpoetico7

Greetings, @agmoore !
Your story has been selected to be part of The Ink Well's 124rd Magazine. Thank you for your presence in the community.

Thank you very much. I'm grateful and honored to be among this week's featured pieces!

Permit me to celebrate Mrs Birdsall with you, she deserves some accolades. This why they say, every child or student is a brilliant student, they just need the right teacher to influence them and unlock their potentials

child or student is a brilliant student


All students can shine, even if they can't be brilliant in the classroom. We all have different ways of shining. A teacher must see and value this.

Thanks very much for commenting.

Congratulations your publication has been chosen among the best of the day.



Thank you very much, @edu-venezuela

You moved me to tears with this wonderfully heartfelt piece. It seems the universe provided many of us with a Mrs. Birdsall, a Sister Bulldog and in my case a Sister Luke, a little lifeboat in a sea of despair, something or someone whose significance does not become apparent until many years later.

Sister Luke!

I think nuns get a bad rap, as a group. It's true many of them are mean. My husband went to Catholic school and remembers the rulers they used to smack the students with. But I met some a few remarkable nuns who influence me, and I didn't go to Catholic school. One was truly a saint, I believe that, and the other was straight as an arrow, strong, ethical and compassionate. An amazing woman.

Sister Luke. I' glad you had 'a little lifeboat in a sea of despair'. I don't know if many teachers realize the difference they can make in a child's life. All it takes is one, sometimes.

Thank you for reading and for your moving comment. More sharing, in this post :) The past is always with us.

I have noticed something. I realized that we used to have so many teachers who trained us when we were in school. There is no doubt that all of them did a good job but out of all of them, there will be that one teacher who we will always remember even though we forget the rest just like you remembered your teacher here.
Nice article!

Thank you, @rafzat. I think there was more than one teacher, but if I had to pick one it would be Mrs. Birdsall. Thanks for stopping by!

The only way to be successful in life is that a person should learn a lot from other people, and when a person starts something in his life, then he should spend time on it and continue doing it. One should not leave then only then a person will be successful in the next life, otherwise if he continues to change work in the same way, he will never be successful in life. We have seen such people in life who It is not given importance and it is not successful.