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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Mason

Learning to Read (and Listen)

Blue and red plastic letters are stored in compartments.

"When you have a question, just raise your hand," my wise nine-year-old brother told me.

I was four and sitting at a desk made of cardboard boxes. "Um ... what does that mean?"

"Just put your hand up in the air," Glen explained.

And we were off. He was learning phonics in school, and since I was learning to read, it was time for a lesson on consonant clusters. He even made me homework.

From there, he showed me that letters and words created the most fun games imaginable.

Once he hung a wire in his room, almost ceiling height. Then he hung construction paper letters from the wire, so I'd think they were floating in midair.

(I could see the wire, but I played along.)

Another time, while we were visiting our grandmother in Maine, we made letters out of snow and spelled out messages for the family on her porch railing.

And once while I was at a friend's house, he snuck into my room with a Magic Marker and wrote the names of my toys on the actual toys. My plastic duck had "duck" tattooed on its chest, and it never rubbed off, even after the duck joined other outgrown toys in a box down cellar.

I should note that my Mom also helped with my early literacy. She read to me almost daily, and she switched me to grown-up Scrabble as soon as I had a handle on how spelling worked. Everything I know about Scrabble strategy I learned from her.

A 14-year-old boy plays vinyl records on a stereo in 1976.
DJ in training Glen Mason playing records in 1976.

But Glen stayed an influencer long after I learned to read. When I was 8 or 9, he would wake me up to watch reruns of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" on PBS. The jokes flew over my head, but I trusted his judgment, and I knew I'd appreciate them someday. Similarly, I saw Steve Martin's "King Tut" sketch live on "Saturday Night Live" because Glen woke me up and said, "C'mon, you gotta see this. This guy is really, really funny."

I became the only 12-year-old I knew with the first B-52's album. And when I turned 17 and was finally old enough to see all ages shows at the Agora Ballroom, he took me to see punk legends the Ramones.

Today my brother is an online DJ, presenting his Retro Cafe show every Sunday night on the Totally 70s Radio Network. He's still an influencer, too, sharing his knowledge of music from the 1970s. Many of those songs make me think of the girl at the cardboard desk learning consonant clusters. I grew up to become a writer, editor, comedy fan, and devotee of what I call "alternative oldies." I'll always be grateful for the lessons.

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