Almost a year ago, an old friend of mine passed away. Her name was Mary Hyvonen, and we met when I was in fifth grade.
Our school had recently established a new program to encourage literacy in students – the “reading buddies” – in which adult members of the community would come in once a week on Friday to spend an hour reading with a student. Mary was my assigned reading buddy, a woman who worked for one of the local dentist offices. After our introduction, we soon found our place of reading, the landing between the second and third floor of a stairwell. That corner became very familiar with our backs the year.
Come to think of it, I wonder if that landing I shared with Mary is part of the reason why I, in high school, folded myself to fit a skinny windowsill in a small back stairwell near the library to read.
One of our books was Redwall by Brian Jacques. Mary didn’t shy away from the silly accents or verbal tics of the different species, nor from saying them out loud in an echoing stairwell. Instead she took to the characters with gusto, giving every sentence its proper dramatic weight. She made the characters, the small woodland critters, feel tall.
The other book we read together was a tattered copy of The Lost World: Jurassic Park junior novelization that I plucked from my teacher’s shelf. I had already read it, but I was eager to share my dinosaur love and knowledge with someone. Mary could have nodded and said simply how smart I was every time I stopped our reading to spout off a random fact, and ten-year-old me would have been happy.
Instead, Mary took notes. She would scribble in the margins of the paper she brought with her, as if the things I said were as important as a professor’s lecture. When my teacher stopped by to check on us, she would proudly show him the new fact I had shared with her. In appreciation, I drew her a picture of a raptor and she would tell me for years after, whenever I went to the dentist’s office, that she still had it. Mary made me, one of the shortest kids in the class, feel tall.
Thank you, Mary.