The best of vacations

Her teacher found Barbara Beth sitting cross-legged under a table in the school library. Not at the table. Under it. The 7 year-old had become bored in class and slipped away to a quiet place where she could read. This wasn’t the first time young Barbara had pulled off this stunt, nor would it be the last. School officials had become accustomed to this behavior and had learned that, when she went missing, they could find her where the books are.

This child, our daughter, had been reading independently since she was 3 years old. Experts in such matters tell us that most children learn to read when they are 6 or 7, some as early as 4 or 5. Betsy and I can’t explain why Beth, as she now prefers to be called, discovered the magic of words so early.

It is true that we both are avid readers who read to our three daughters in our laps from infancy on, then our grandchildren. Maybe that helped. Parents and grandparents influence such things, much of this by example. My parents loved to read, and I can remember my mother reading to me. I can recall lying face down on the living room floor as a child, reading the large dictionary, page after page, fascinated with words and their meaning.

Beth is now grown up, the Rev. Beth M. Woodard, MDiv., pastor of a Lutheran church, chaplain of an elder care facility, wife and mother of two young adults. She entered the ministry after a short career in newspaper journalism, writing and editing. These days she leads an active life that demands all the time and concentrated effort she can muster, but somehow she continues to read. A lot.

So do Betsy and I. My dear bride, now residing in an assisted living home, has surrounded herself with books in her room there. The pandemic has forced us both to hunker down in our private spaces and avoid contact with others. So we read.

When the virus began to spread, I had just finished reading Celeste Ng’s novel “Little Fires Everywhere,” which has been made into a miniseries streaming on Hulu, featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington in principal roles. I loved this book, a good story. As the pandemic has stretched on, my reading choices have varied widely to include “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett, a gifted writer with a keen ear for dialogue; “Run” by Patchett; “Intrusions” by Ursula Hegi, probably my favorite writer; “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs; “Pontoon” by Garrison Keillor”; and I’m now enjoying the final pages of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier.

This gem of a novel unfolds the first-person account of the life of a servant working in the 17th century household of painter Johannes Vermeer, who used her as a model for what became a famous painting. Chevalier has skillfully transported me into that environment and the lives of Vermeer’s household so that I can see and hear them as if I am in the room with them. What a treat.

”Books,” Beth once told us, “are like vacations.” They can take us anywhere.

Yes.

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