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Sharon Randall: Holding world in palm of hand

By Sharon Randall

Do you remember the first time you held the world in the palm of your hand?

One day when I was 8, my teacher took me aside and said, “You are an excellent reader.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll tell my grandmother you said so. She taught me to read.”

The teacher smiled and said, “I want you to represent our class in the school’s reading contest.”

It sounded important.

“What would I have to do?”

“Just read,” she said. “You’ll be fine. I’ll pick a book and mark pages for you to practice.”

Then she dropped the bomb: The contest would take place the following week in the school cafeteria in front of parents, teachers, administrators and the entire student body — or as my grandmother would say, in front of God and all his angels. I didn’t sleep that week. The teacher gave me “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey, a book about a girl who goes berry picking with her mother and meets a mama bear and her cub. I read it until I knew it by heart.

The evening of the contest, my stepfather had to work at the mill. He’d never learned to read, but liked to brag, he said, that his 8-year-old stepdaughter was in a reading contest. It took me a while to realize he meant me.

My mother left my brothers with a neighbor and we drove to the school. The starch she put in my dress made my neck itch.

“Are you scared?” she said.

“No, ma’am,” I lied.

She had quit school at 15 to marry and have babies, but she placed a high value on reading.

“You’re a good reader,” she said. “Just read. You’ll be fine.”

The cafeteria was packed. Mama found a seat in back and I took my place down in front.

One by one, the readers read. They were good. I hoped they’d never stop. When my turn came, I couldn’t find my mother’s face in the crowd. But I recalled what she and my teacher had told me.

So I did what they said. I just read. When I got to the part where the bears showed up, I looked around the room and realized every eye was watching me, every ear was listening. I had the whole world, it seemed, right in the palm of my hand.

When I reached the page my teacher had marked for me to stop, I read another page. And another. Finally, I gave a quick curtsy and sat down. It was the first time I’d heard applause just for me. Except the day my blind brother clapped when I showed him how to shoot a cap pistol.

I never expected to win that contest. Imagine my surprise when they handed the trophy for First Place — to me. I don’t know if I’ve told all my grandchildren that story. Even if I have, I’ll tell it again soon. Last week, Henry, who is 8, was asked to read a few lines for a school assembly. So he invited me to come hear him.

“Are you scared?” I said.

“No, Nana,” he lied.

“You’re a great reader,” I said. “Just read. You’ll be fine.”

And that is what he did.

I wish you could’ve heard him.

That evening, we sat on a bench, Henry and I, watching the sunset and talking.

“How did you feel reading at the assembly today?” I asked.

He thought about it. Then he held out his hand, palm up, and said, “It was wonderful, Nana. All those people were listening to me. I felt like I had the world in the palm of my hand.”

Reading puts the world not only in our palms, but in our hearts and in our souls. It takes us on grand adventures to places we’ve never been and into the minds of people we’ll never meet. It tells us truths that are thousands of years old and lets us pick berries with bears.

Whether we read to ourselves, or to a sleepy toddler, or to a loved one who is dying, or to a roomful of strangers who will suddenly become our friends  reading puts the world in the palm of our hand.

Just read. You’ll be fine.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com

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