When I was a kid, my sisters were wizards. They had magic words that could turn a pillow-high, cozy warm brass bed into the March family living room. They had incantations that produced beautiful horses, stinking French sewers and one sad little dog named Greyfriars Bobby. They could conjure people and places at will, and on one occasion, they harnessed the wind from a stay-home-from-school bitter Saskatchewan storm to propel our ships out of danger. They cast spells that bewitched me so completely that, long before I was allowed to cross the street by myself, I could travel through the puny barriers of time and space with ease. And it was there that my sisters abracadabra-ed their friends for me — Black Beauty, Travis and his dog Yeller, Hans Brinker and the queen of long, lazy summer afternoons, Nancy Drew.
The source of my sisters’ sorcery was the Mayfair Public Library. It was a cavernous basement with high little citadel windows and dim, humming electric light. It was a place of holy quiet, brown with wisdom and heavy with wooden shelves. It was guarded by ferocious matrons in sensible shoes. They kept their eyes on little boys who might be loud — or sticky — but, by then, I knew how powerful and precious books were, so I sat quietly and kept my eye on them. I remember thinking, “I’m a little boy now, but someday… someday, I will decipher your runes and, like Lochinvar,* I’ll come and I’ll take what I want and know your magic for myself.” I knew I would do this. I knew it because my sisters were never jealous witches, concealing their art. Tired of me pestering them to read to me, they were already showing me that the tiny symbols in the books made sounds and the sounds made words — and the words, taken together, made power.
Today I am a wizard. I have spent a lifetime studying the alchemy of words — reading and writing them. I still smile when they are used well in delightful new combinations and still cry when they are abused. I will never tire of their wonder. I do this because once upon a time, in a time that doesn’t exist anymore, five magical sisters loved their little brother so much they taught him how to read.
*My sisters knew Lochinvar personally and, two years in a row, two different sisters memorized his adventures — so I did, as well. Even now, I still have a stanza or two.