One of the most popular programs chosen by female high school seniors in 1968 was the 'home economics special' program, for seniors who planned on marrying right after high school. The focus of the program was on cooking, homemaking, and raising a family. This was also the focus of many of my classmates that year. Since 'Donna Reed' was a top weekly television show, this goal for the future was quite acceptable. Donna Reed was the wife of a pediatrician, and a stay at home mom. Women in my generation did not often seek college or careers. That was the husband's total responsibility. I did not have any close friends who mothers worked.
So upon completion of the 'home economics special' program for seniors, I was well prepared to cook, clean, take care of the home, and raise the children. What more could life possibly have to offer? The subjects of unemployment, chronic illness, addictions, poverty, adultery, divorce, and child support payments were sadly left out of that seniors' special course. Those were private matters not to be discussed even within the family, let alone in a public classroom.
The dream of the 'perfect' family life came to a disillusioned end for many young ladies of my generation. We were not prepared to make a living and blindly went into survival mode in order to cope. Keeping the children fed, clothed, and warm were priorities, and everything else was put on the back burner.
Thankfully, I lived within walking distance of the public library. I would take the children there to read, for story times, and as the baby napped in the stroller, I would pick out books for myself. These were the books I should have been reading in high school. The self-help section was my favorite. " How to survive on your own", "How to avoid the trap of depression", "How to feed your family on a shoestring", and "Where to turn in your time of need", were a few of my first in a long line of books that I literally devoured.
The idea that I could stroll the floors of the library and choose whatever I needed on any subject imaginable was such a welcome diversion from the daily battle of being my family's caretaker. I looked forward to our visits there, and felt so privileged that I was trusted to borrow what I could never afford to buy. My reading was done in the yard while the children played, at the beach while they made sand castles, in the car waiting for them to get out of school, in doctor's waiting rooms, and just before retiring each night. Reading has always been an ideal way to unwind at the end of a hectic day.
Reading led to imagining, which led to wanting to write, and eventually writing became my passion. I wrote poetry, short stories, children's stories, womens' non-fiction, and most importantly my journal of growth made possible by the books I was reading.
My love of reading was passed on to my children. Their education became key in my life. I knew better than anyone the value of school and college in their lives. My discovery of a better life for them was made possible through my reading and learning daily.
Watching my three children graduate from high school was a dream come true. My parents' did not have that luxury. It was uncommon in their generation, as it was necessary for them to work very young in order to contribute support to the family. It was also uncommon for them to have the time or opportunity to visit the library and learn about their world as I had been able to do.
Today two of my children have earned masters' degrees, and the youngest is in nursing school. My curiosity about college was always present, but that was for the younger generation, with a lifetime ahead of them. I thought often about whether I could sit and concentrate in a classroom at my age. Then the opportunity arose, with the financial help from my son, the engineer, to satisfy my curiosity and enter the world of the college student. I was privileged to have my youngest child sitting next to me in that first class, which was of great support to my 'new student' jitters. In time, school and homework became second nature to me, and I found learning to be truly a joy.
I am so thankful today for all those teachers who took the time to see that I once learned to read, and write, and learn about my world. I am also thankful that my town had a public library at my disposal, and a staff that was eager to help a young woman searching for herself in the writings of others. I cherish that which I have read, and learned, and keep close to my heart the words that authors have shared in their wonderful stories. Without books, my world would be no larger than the small town I reside in. The world of literature so graciously shared by others means more to me than words can express. Libraries make it possible for generations ahead to look back into history, enhance the present, and aim for the future.