Cindy and Liz take their mop-haired cousin to the library to learn to read.

If you can read this, there's someone you should thank

Do you remember the process of learning to read? That moment when the squiggles and wiggles began turning into real live words. And a whole new world rose up to greet you.

I was sitting on the cool cement steps outside our neighborhood library, flanked by my older cousins. Cindy and Liz were about to rock my pre-kindergarten world that summer's day.

Barely readers themselves at that point, the sisters were nonetheless patiently pointing out to this mop-headed kiddo the fine points of deciphering words such as "cat" and "dog" and "Jane" and "Spot."

At first I was simply enjoying their company. That these much-idolized older girls had their attention focused solely on me was rarified air for this tagalong tot.

Plus I figured I would be able to wheedle them into reading to me, if I played my cards right.

The youngest child in not only my family, but also within the entire extended family of this block of beloveds, I was good at bamboozling my way to story time. Just ask any parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin who fell prey to my bazillionth request to hear "The Shaggy Dog." Or "The Saggy Baggy Elephant." Or myriad other Golden Book delights.

Picture book in hand, or sometimes hidden behind my back, depending, I'd sidle over to a likely reader, bat the big browns and offer up my favorite tale of the day with a pleading smile.

"Will you please read me this? Please?"

Persistence was key. I was not easily fobbed off with fibs about "later." And I wasn't shy about enlisting the help of a heartfelt sigh or even a droopy lower lip.

But the sisters were on a mission to enlist me into the ranks of the early readers' club. Class was in session. I was there to learn, they said.

Cindy's small index finger traced the letters on the picture book. I remember being told to note the sideways half circle of the letter "C."

"Cat," she said. "C-A-T. See the 'C'?"

And the vertical serpentine squiggle that began Spot's moniker was, in fact, the same symbol that started my own, Liz pointed out.

Head bent over the Dick and Jane saga, I struggled to keep up with their instruction.

As the minutes ticked by, I listened and watched intently. Their fingers flew from the colorful images on the page, to the corresponding black and white words, to detailing the shapes of each letter.

Part of me was wondering how long this lesson could possibly last before they wandered off to their own worlds again. Another part of me was absorbing their attention and instruction like a Soak It Up Sanne cousin of SpongeBob.

Suddenly I began to see the connections. Pointing to the words and the images myself, I began connecting the squiggles with the images.

"Cat! Cat! Cat!" I cried triumphantly. 'And this says 'DOG!'"

Just like that, my inner reading lamp was forever lit. I practically lived in that library as the years went along.

It was directly down the block from my home, and right across the street from the elementary school. My summer reading train was always the longest. I was grateful for the librarians who vouched for my voracious appetite.

"Yes, Sandy has read all these books," they'd attest to my teachers.

I don't know whether my cousins were operating from love, or self-protection from the Insatiable Story Monster that summer's day. But I am eternally grateful to them both. And to everyone who took the time to read to this child. Or any child.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email

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