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Kathy Bradley: People, like books, must be opened to be understood
Kathy Bradley new WEB
Kathy Bradley - photo by Special

    Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, his shoulder fits into the hollow of my side and the loop of my arm conforms to the back of his neck. Exactly. Perfectly. I have to tilt my chin only slightly to rest it on the blonde head, to draw in the scent of little boy. One chair, two of us.
    He has brought me a stack of books, books carefully chosen from the shelves in the guest room. Others were pulled out, opened and pushed back in with a peremptory, “Too much words.” These — the ones about the wombat, the caterpillar and the goose — apparently have just the right ratio of words to pictures. Who knew?
    The first one we will read is "Petunia," the one about the goose. The plot goes something like this: Petunia finds a book in the meadow and because she has seen the little boy who lives on the farm taking a book to school and has heard his father say, “He who owns books and loves them is wise,” Petunia anoints herself the barnyard sage and sets about addressing all the other animals’ problems. Addressing them, not solving them, for whatever Petunia suggests only makes the situations worse. Eventually, Petunia figures out that it takes more than owning a book or carrying it around to make a person, or a goose, wise.
    Jackson likes "Petunia" especially, I think, not because at 4 years old he understands the message, but because of the voices. I make Petunia sound like a Southern grandma. The horse sounds like Mr. Ed and the cow sounds like Elsie. The dog barks out his every word and the rooster cocka-doodle-dos his. I love that I can make him laugh. I love that he balls his little hands into fists and draws them up to his face and hunches his shoulders as though trying to contain something combustible.
    So here we are, settled in and ready. Jackson lifts the cover and folds it back. I wait for him to turn the first page, but he stops. He is looking at the inscription written on the frontispiece, the inscription written by the mother of the little girl, now a teenager, who gave me "Petunia." "To the one who has taught me that opening the books is what is most important."
    Opening the book. Not owning the book. Not carrying it around. It is the lesson that Petunia ultimately learns, but only after spreading misinformation and bad advice all over the barnyard and, in the end, nearly blowing up all her friends by mistaking dynamite for candy.
    I start reading. I do all the voices. I keep my arm tucked close around this little person who carries some of my very DNA. But I am simultaneously wondering about that inscription. I am asking myself a question. Have I really done that for which my friend gave me credit? Have I really demonstrated to the people I love — all of them — that what we own, what we carry can never be the measure of what we know? That it is only by letting ourselves be opened, our spines to be cracked, our pages turned down, our margins scribbled upon, that we become wise? That we learn to distinguish dynamite from candy?
    I can't know. Not for sure.
    “The end,” I say, closing the back cover on Petunia and her newfound wisdom.
    “Now this one.” Jackson pulls the caterpillar book from the stack and hands it over to me. I can't know, but he does. He trusts me to know what to do with a book.

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