In yesterday’s “Blondie” comic strip, Dagwood asks Elmo if he ever plays “homework,” with the assumption his answer is no. The present creator of “Blondie” must be younger than I to have presumed that no child would do such a thing. The truth is, I played “homework” for several of my elementary school years and I loved it, longed for it, looked forward to it. There was no television in our home to distract me and that was wonderful.
My Aunt Benny was an elementary teacher and she brought me old teacher’s editions of textbooks her school was throwing out. I was ecstatic. Here was information on every topic imaginable. I loved learning and now I could indulge myself. I could take the tests after each chapter and then I could check to see how much I‘d retained.
These books took me out of my everyday world of home--where there were difficult and dirty chores to be done in all kinds of weather-- and school—where there were boys with beastly behavior. The world of textbooks thrust me into a space where all the wonders of the world were divulged and explained. In the world of textbooks, there were correct answers. Sure things.
I remember the science textbook especially because of the chapter on constellations. How the ancients saw those drawings in the arrangements of the stars was beyond me. While I admired their imaginations, I found their artistic skills lacking. No way did the stars look like that to me. Still, I memorized the names of the star groupings and tested myself nightly to see which ones I could find. That ships can sail guided by stars alone still amazes me. Cassiopeia, Orion, The Big and Little Dippers (or Big and Little Bears if you live in France)—all led me to the stories of the characters upon whom the names were based and I began to learn ancient mythologies. The mythologies took me into other short stories, novels, poetry. They took me into the history of western civilization and geography.
I read and read, answered the questions and soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I entertained myself for hours and I realized the world was bigger than my sphere alone. I concluded that life might not be so dismal, so painful, so mean in another spot under those same stars. I understood that knowledge could get me to that better place and it was the only hope a poor girl such as I had for such transport.
Looking back now, I thank that stellar grouping “Lucky Stars” that Aunt Benny brought me books when she did. Hitching my ride on that constellation has brought me to where I am today.