MINE WAS NO storybook childhood - except that summer when I fell in love with Rhett Butler and Brer Rabbit.
I was 9, going on 10, when my mother said I could spend summer vacation with my dad. He lived on his family's farm in the North Carolina mountains, never left home except to fight - first the Germans, then my mother. The war would have ended a lot sooner, he said, had Hitler been married to her.My parents' war ended in divorce when I was 2, but they still fired salvos through me. My dad retreated to the farm, hoping to take me with him. But I had to go to the front, as he put it, to live with my mother and her new husband.
It wasn't such a bad life for me, but I hated it for my mother. People told her when she left my dad that she was going from a frying pan to a fire. Daddy was right, as I saw it. Hitler would've been toast with her. She doled me out to my father like crumbs to a starving bird - a day here, a weekend there, a week in summer, if we got lucky.
One summer we got extra lucky. The battle was heating up on the home front, so my mother, either to please or protect me, farmed me out, so to speak, for a whole month.
The first week I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I was doted on night and day by my dad and my grandparents, sometimes all three at once.
The second week, they remembered that they had chores. Swell. I had to fend for myself. Like a soldier in peacetime longing for battle, I began to miss my mother.
Homesickness, they say, is in your head. Don't believe them. It's in your gut.
When I stopped wretching, my grandmother pillowed my head in her bosom and began reading to me from a strange-sounding book about a smart rabbit and a stupid fox.
And there, just like that, loneliness left me and, oh, the magic began. I fell asleep in my grandmother's arms, dreaming of a briar patch.
Next day she handed me a book big as the family Bible.
"Read yourself a little `Gone with the Wind' today," she said, "and tonight, I'll read you more `Uncle Remus.' "
Every day I would read to myself - by the creek, in the porch swing, under the canopy of a giant fir - and every night she would read to me. I don't know which I loved more.
What I learned, both in the reading and being read to, was more than a revelation. It was for me a revolution. My world would never be the same.
So. Here's the deal. Before summer is over, I promise to read to at least one child and to hear that child read to me.
That's it. Nothing fancy. How about you? Want to help me change a piece of the world?