Legacy Letters

Read, read, read — that’s what summer is for! What better way to share values, to let ourselves be known to the next generation, than by sharing our love of reading: to share our favorite books from youth and adolescence and how books have expanded our adult lives.

We may have fond memories of librarians and libraries, of visiting those humbling places that held more books than we could read in a lifetime.

My personal favorites included The Little Match Girl, a tragic Christmas story by Hans Christian Andersen and Hansel and Gretel, the frightening German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. With all the attention on California Chrome, who might have been the next Triple Crown winner, I remember being a fourth grader in love with horses and their stories. I was enamored with Black Beauty, and The Black Stallion. As a “tweener,” Nancy Drew was my first feminist heroine, and I loved books that made me cry: Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the Civil War novel, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Those books taught me about love, danger and death, important for a protected Midwestern girl growing up in the 1940s and 1950s when such topics were taboo.

I remember books I read aloud to my own children, then their children, in the 1970s and then again in the last decade. And my pleasure in passing forward a love of books, of stories that could make them laugh and cry, develop their empathy and compassion, tickle their imaginations, and teach them values. Here are some of the titles I read dozens of times, beloved by both boys and girls over the years: Early Bird by Richard Scary, Katy No-Pocketby Emmy Payne, Why Can’t I Fly?, the tale of a frustrated ostrich by Ken Brown, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel and theBetsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace,

Recently I read a Hardy boys mystery to my 9-year-old grandson, Aidan. Although I had to translate some “old-fashioned” details for him, the action and adventure was fun for both of us. And my 15-year-old granddaughter, Lily, who is fascinated with the myth of Merlin. Finally she is mature enough to enjoy us reading the mystical Mists of Avalon — about Merlin, the romance and intrigue of King Arthur’s court, and a tale of women’s spiritual power hidden beyond the mists, still one of my all-time favorite novels.

There will be those who’ll argue that a tablet or a video can do the same things, but beyond using our own imaginations, there’s something so tactile, so wonderful about holding a book, turning it around to show its illustrations, holding one side of the book as a child grips the other, turning paper pages — shiny and slippery or textured and thick, imprinting us deep within.

When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him. — Salman Rushdie

Why did I love to read? Stories took me far away from difficult family dynamics. Stories expanded my mind and imagination, and developed my feelings and ethics. I have sweet memories of riding my bike to the library on grade school summer days. I’d fill my basket with books for the week, and eagerly ride home to sit in the green apple tree and read, read, read.

My first book list was not really a list, but a commitment to read every book on the library shelves beginning with authors whose names began with “A” and my goal was to get to the end of the alphabet before junior high school. (This goal I failed to achieve.)

When I was a college student, I promised myself I’d read all the books I’d listed when I graduated, then after I finished teaching school, then after my kids were less demanding, etc. Another failure! As a middle-aged adult, I experienced the joy of reading aloud in a tiny studio for the Minnesota State Services for the Blind, 15 years of joy coupled with service. I returned last year, and hope for another 15.

And now in the autumn of my life, I realize how much reading has meant to me and ways it has shaped me and broadened my horizons. I have the privilege and time to read even more. I won’t live long enough to read everything I’d like, but reading has been a teacher and a guide — about the power of ideas, the beauty of exquisite writing. A companion that’s taken me on adventures into the past and the future and all over our planet and further.

Hopefully my book memories will remind you of yours — from childhood and beyond, as well as books you’ve read to your children and perhaps theirs.

If I could leave one value to my grandchildren, it just might be: read read, read — with curiosity, with joy in words and ideas, with openness to learning and with the escape of adventure and the delight of exploring the unknown. Read, read, read! And remember how much I love you.

Principles of Practice:

1. Take time to muse about books and stories you’ve loved and learned from over the years. More will come as days pass, so feel free to add memories and titles to your lists.

2. Then reflect about ways books and reading have been memorable, important, and an enrichment of your life.

3. If you’ve read to others (children, grandchildren, friends, the ill or the aging) consider what that has meant to you.

4. If you choose, write legacy letters to inspire younger generations of readers. Tell them your stories about books that have made a difference in your life and why, and lessons you’ve learned from your reading experiences.

May your stories and memories about books inspire those you love. — Rachael Freed

NEW: Webinar Workshop September 23, “Writing Love Letters to our Children I: Celebrations of Life Events.” Contact Rachael for more information and registration rachael@legacy-letters.com.

Your Legacy Matters 

Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker and adult educator. She provides programs, workshops, and training for financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.


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