Faith Matters

My mother gave me the gift of words

When she gave me words, she gave me God.

When I was three years old, my immigrant mother emptied out a closet in our Boston apartment—the only space she could spare—to make me a reading room. It was my father’s utility closet, filled with tools, light bulbs, and spare batteries, but she tossed the “man stuff” out, installed a tiny table and two chairs she’d found at a flea market, and christened the closet my “first school.”

Unable to afford fancy teaching materials, she cut words and pictures out of magazines and greeting cards and Scotch-taped them to the closet walls. I remember she took great care in arranging the scraps, setting them against each other as an artist sets the pieces of a collage. 

When the room was ready, my education in the English language began. Every morning, we’d sit at the tiny table, surrounded by my mother’s word-and-picture tapestry. She would point and I would read, matching pictures to letters, symbols to meaning. Kitten, puppy, horse, rainbow. Star, ball, leaf, sun. Our bodies pressed together, her gaze guiding mine, we feasted on words.