Ritual Confessions

January 23, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. and my mother

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 6:10 am

[Transcribed MLK Day blog]

Having my mother here today brought up some memories:

I was in second grade. It was February, black history month. (Years later, in college, I would hear Angela Davis speak, and one of her comments would stay with me: “Yes, I think it’s nice that in this country, they’ve designated a month to acknowledge black history,” she said, “but February is still the shortest… and the coldest… month of the year.”) Anyway, back in second grade, we were learning in school about Martin Luther King. And that evening, in the mall, a King biography for young adults was on display. I picked it up and brought it over to my mother.

“Mom, can I have this book?” I asked.

She glanced over at it. “Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Absolutely.”

And I had the sense of having asked for exactly the right thing, of incurring her unequivocal approval.

Thinking about this made me remember something else. When I was in grade school, the kids in each class were given a chance, several times a year, to order books at a discount through the school. Everyone received a little pamphlet to take home, listing the featured books along with brief descriptions of their story lines; at the back was an order form. And no matter how many of these books I wanted — and I always wanted a lot of them — my mother always let me get them. There was nothing she was happier to spend money on.

Growing up, my brother and I were allowed to watch very little TV. Our average viewing time was two hours a week. And I can remember my mother refusing to indulge any number of my wishes: for one of the colorful lollipops at Howard Johnson’s, or the tantalizing Sit’n’Spin toy I saw on one of those rare television commercials, or a canopy bed. But not once in my life can I remember her refusing me a book.

Today, I don’t own a television, and I never have. I just transported, from Portland to Vancouver, box upon box upon box of books. And Martin Luther King Day makes me sentimental.



  1. What a wonderful legacy your mom left you!

    Comment by Shawn W — January 24, 2008 @ 4:37 am

  2. That’s how I was/am with my kids and their grown. When I was growing up, we had no books in the house. My parents didn’t understand why I wanted books. I’m not sure they do now.

    Comment by Corina — March 14, 2008 @ 5:04 am

  3. When our daughter was little, we raised her mostly without a television and provided her with lots of books.

    She was the fifth grade spelling champion of Oregon. As my daughter refused to compete to be sixth grade champion, she retired undefeated. Our granddaughter is being raised without live television and lots of books, but we are not encouraging her to be a spelling champion.

    Comment by modestypress — August 16, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

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