Several children who attended Alexis’ birthday party brought small books as gifts. Alexis liked the books. She liked looking at the images in the cartoons, and could pretty well figure out what the story was. She liked bugging her parents to sit down with her and read out loud, but she found it frustrating to have to wait on them to take the time to sit down with her. One morning Alexis woke up much earlier than the rest of the house and sat, wrapped in the shawl Eileen knitted for her, on the window seat, looking through her books, dreaming of the day that she could sit and read by herself. She imagined herself reading all sorts of books, even the ones without illustrations that her father read.
When she heard her parents heading down for breakfast, she surprised them by following close on their heels; they expected her to be asleep awhile longer. In the living room Alexis passed her parents and walked to the saloon doors to the kitchen and pushed them open before passing through, declining to duck under as she considered that an action of a baby.
Kelly and Genevieve glanced at each other as they followed their child into the kitchen where Eileen was pulling a pan of Featherbed Eggs out of the oven and placing it on a rack to cool.
The day passed as so many others did on the farm. Genevieve painted, and wishing that Bennie would return soon. She worked between the naps she still found she was in need off since her illness. Kelly retreated to the hayloft to work on his current project, after finishing his morning chores. Alexis who’s last chore of the morning was to take her pony out for its exercise, went exploring the surrounding country side on foot, after returning Cheyenne to her pasture for a well earned rest.
That night the family made their dinner of a beef stew, which Kelly fixed himself from some leftover barbecued brisket he found in the back of the freezer compartment of the Frigidaire. Kelly was quite proud of the recipe, which he made up as he went. Once the kitchen was cleaned up enough for Eileen to cook breakfast the next morning, the little family headed to the living room to enjoy an evening of reading, like they did most evenings.
“Mommy, I want to read. You read. Daddy reads. I want to,” said Alexis adamantly, having become restless while her mother, who leaning up against Kelly’s shoulder, read to her. As her mother read she sat on her father’s lap, until he had to get up to close the windows, as the night air was becoming chilled.
“Okay dear, sit back down, next to me, and I will point at the words as I read, so you can see how they look,” said Genevieve, not knowing the first thing about teaching someone to read.
“Daddy,” said Alexis the next morning as he sat on the sofa, holding her on his lap, reading to her, from the morning paper.
“Yes, pumpkin?” asked Kelly distracted. He was reading the business news to her since it didn’t seem to bother her what her parents read, just so long as they read.
“I don’t remember anything Mommy taught me last night about reading,” said Alexis disappointed.
Dropping her section of the newspaper to her lap, Genevieve assured her daughter, “Alexis you are too little to be thinking about learning to read. Wait until you start school. You will learn to read then.”
“I am not too young! I don’t want to wait to learn to read!” asserted Alexis.
“Now don’t you worry about it Alexis. I know it seems confusing right now but you just keep at it, looking at the words while we read to you, and one day when you are bigger it will click for you. When that happens you will not even remember a time when you couldn’t read,” said Kelly, bouncing his little girl on his knee absently, his mind focused on the news story that he didn’t want to read to her.
Alexis slipped away from her father, giving him the look she always gave her parents if she thought they were not behaving properly, and made her way out to the kitchen.
“I think we are in the doghouse,” said Kelly to his wife who returned to her reading, as he leaned back against the sofa.
“Yes, we are. Sometimes I wish Alexis wasn’t so quiet. When she glares at us it sounds a lot louder than yelling,” said Genevieve, looking up at her husband, “What is the matter, you look distressed.”
“I think we are going to have Bennie back home soon,” said Kelly, not noticing that he now thought of the farm as Bennie’s home.
“Oh, I don’t think so. He is all excited about the small role he landed in that Marilyn Monroe movie. Even though he is just a last minute replacement for a man who dropped out because the movie has been so delayed, he is very excited that after all the postponements filming is going to start again, and he will meet Marilyn,” said Genevieve, absently wondering how her husband managed to forget Bennie’s big news.
“No Dear, I don’t think that will happen. Look at this,” he said, folding the paper before handing it to his wife.
“What, has she been dropped from the movie again?” asked Genevieve before she opened the paper to its front page and read, Marilyn Monroe Dead, at 36, Overdose Suspected. “Oh, dear, poor Bennie is going to be so disappointed.”
“Poor Marilyn, she was so young,” said Kelly, sadly.
Genevieve started to answer her husband, but stopped on hearing the sound of her daughter’s distressed voice from the kitchen.
“Mommy and Daddy say I am too little to read. I am taller than Mindy Hansen and she can read,” said Alexis, hurt filling her voice, as she felt very put upon.
“Sweetie your parents meant you are too young to learn yet. Mindy Hansen may be little but she is two years older than you. You just wait, when you get to school you will learn to read,” said Eileen, with assurance. Kelly and Genevieve decided to slip off for a walk and leave their offended child to the capable ministrations of Eileen.
Later that morning, Eileen was waiting for the timer to go off to remind her to remove cakes from the oven, when Alexis reappeared in the kitchen, carrying a book.
“Come here and let me read to you little one,” said Eileen, holding her hand out for the book. Alexis gave up the book and climbed up on a chair next to her.
Looking seriously at Eileen, who was normally spared Alexis’ serious looks, Alexis said, “Don’t read, teach me to read.”
“Alexis, I told you that you will learn to read when you get to school,” said Eileen.
“What if I died tomorrow?” asked Alexis, aping Eileen’s favorite saying that she used to motivate Alexis to do things for others, which Alexis wanted to put off.
Glancing over the saloon door to catch Kelly grinning at her for being caught out by the child, Eileen said, “Why of course you are right. Let’s begin.” As she watched Kelly slip away without attracting Alexis’ notice, Eileen took the little girl onto her lap and opened the book in front of them. Pointing at each word she said it and waited until Alexis said the word after her. She went through the whole book in this manner. When she reached the end, she expected Alexis to be bored with the process and go away to play, but the little girl looked over her shoulder, at the housekeeper, smiling and said, “Again!”
When Kelly later looked into the kitchen he saw the two still hard at work over the book, and leaving them undisturbed he made his way up to the studio, where his wife was working in the fading light.
“Hi sweetheart,” said Genevieve, looking up from the sketch she was working on, “Do you know what Eileen left us for dinner?”
“I am sorry my dear, but we have to shift for ourselves, tonight,” said Kelly, looking out the window seeing Eileen peddling her bike down toward the main road.
“Oh, why?” asked Genevieve with surprise.
“Eileen spent the afternoon teaching Alexis to read, so all we have to eat are some icing-free cakes,” said Kelly with a smile. “I guess Alexis was rather persuasive.”
“Oh dear, I guess we are going to have to start teaching Alexis to read now, if we want to get fed,” said Genevieve.
“I am going into Dallas to get some books tomorrow. I will stop by that place that has the teacher’s resources and see if they have a book that will teach us how to teach a preschooler to read,” said Kelly warming to the project.
As all the Indian summer days were played out and the little town was once again getting ready for the holiday season, emotionally exhausted by the Cuban Missile Crises. Kelly Archie found himself missing reading in front of the fire, at night, to his little girl, who this night was laying on the hearthrug, reading a book by herself. “I miss reading to you, Alexis,” said Kelly, suddenly.
“Dear!” said Genevieve, with disapproval.
“What is wrong with Mr. A saying how he feels?” asked Bennie, who returned to the farm back in the middle of August.
“That is okay, Daddy! I will read to you!” announced Alexis and getting off the floor went to sit next to her father and began to read, “There once was a boy named Jack …”
The three adults enjoyed the reading that lasted until Alexis in her best imitation of her father said, “Well, we’ve had enough of that for now. We should all get to bed.” Alexis closed her book, tucked it under one arm and marched upstairs, with the bemused adults following.