I don’t remember not being able to read. I do have a clear memory ( I was two or three) of being lifted up and placed in the center of a big bed — covered in one of those old-fashioned bedspreads with raised embroidery. My father surrounded me with what seemed like a sea of comic books and told me to learn to read them.
And learn I did. I’m not sure how I did it — I have no memory of anyone sounding out letters for me. I could tell you that I seem to remember words being spelled out for me, but I can’t be sure it isn’t an invented memory, created as I try to puzzle out this question…in any event , it doesn’t have the same clarity in my mind as the being placed on the bed memory. My best guess is that, with help from my parents, I matched the pictures to the words.
Flash forward a few years. It’s 1950, and I’m in New Orleans on a trolley with my father. he’s taking me to a drugstore near the Tulane University campus, where he’s a graduate student in mathematics. I’ve received a few dollars for my sixth birthday, and I’m to be allowed to spend it on comic books — Donald Duck and Little Lulu are my favorites. We get off the trolley after a short ride, and I’m left by myself for a while to look through the comic books — I call them “funny books”, like everyone else in that part of the world at the time. My eye is caught by something anomalous sitting in the nearby magazine racks, along with Time and Life, and The Saturday Evening Post.
It’s a strange little book, shaped like one of today’s paperbacks, entitled “POGO” with a drawing of a winsome possum on the cover. When I opened it up, it was filled with comic strips organized into stories that seemed to have more of a point than I was used to in the Sunday comics, home to Prince Valiant (boring) and Li’l Abner (often funny, but also often boorish – not that i knew what boorish meant in those days). Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Pogo the Possum seemed much more, well , human, than Scrooge Mc Duck. Then there was Wile E. Coyote. Even at the age of six, I could tell that there was something wrong with the way he wanted to run the swamp. It would be a few years before i realized that he looked just like Senator Joe McCarthy…
(To be continued)