Se Cayó La P
The only thing that I remember from that day is the letter P sitting on the floor next to the grating that ran at the bottom of the fridge. It was the same refrigerators that I had with me through college, a refrigerator that was gifted to my parents by my paternal grandfather when they got married. It was a yellow, old refrigerator that did its job but required frequent defrosting sessions when the ice in the freezer got out of control. As dry as El Paso was, there seemed to be plenty of humidity for the freezer to grow huge layers of frost.
The rest of the story, as told by various people throughout my lifetime, comes down to something like this… Every morning, for many mornings, my grandmother would sit me down on the high chair and feed me breakfast. As she did so, she would also show me every letter of the magnetic alphabet set she put on the refrigerator’s door. She started off with the vowels, then the consonants, and then the alphabet forwards and backwards. One day, the letter P fell off the fridge, and I said to her, “Ay, abuelita. Se cayó la P.”
Grandma said she was stunned because I was just a few days from turning two years old, and she didn’t really expect me to learn the alphabet. She did it just to keep me entertained, she said. But, once I told her the letter P had fallen, she started asking me the names of all the other letters. I had memorized them all, and she was ecstatic.
When mom got home from work, my grandmother did not wait in telling her what happened. Mom pretended not to be surprised. “He is my child after all,” she said. But she was surprised. Like my grandmother, mom didn’t think that the morning ritual would lead to me learning the alphabet at that age. In the part of the world where we lived, children learned the alphabet in first or even second grade. Some didn’t even learn it at all and still managed to get good jobs that paid enough to raise a family. So, it wasn’t a concern that I excel at anything.
I was also just two years old.
Upon hearing the news, grandpa grabbed me and took me to the town pharmacist, who happened to be one of the most educated men in town. Grandpa held me in his arms as he asked me to “read” the letters on the different advertisements around the pharmacy. I have a memory of a glass stand full of bottles with a small sign on it, and grandpa’s hand pointing at the letters one by one as I told him what letters they were. I just don’t remember the words because putting the letters together to read words would not happen until I was three years old.
By the time I started kindergarten, I was reading. It wasn’t fast reading or anything like that, but I did read the comic strips on the newspaper, and occasionally articles themselves. Mom bought me a children’s encyclopedia that I absorbed from A to Z, and dad would take me to a book store every weekend to buy magazines and books. They were not at all afraid to let me learn, and they pushed me to learn more and more as I consumed all the materials they gave me to read.
This would come in handy about 20 years later, when I met my wife. Our first date was at a bookstore, and we sat there while sipping on chai tea and talking about the books we had picked to look over and buy. It was a great conversation that led to a great relationship and to us being the parents of a bright little girl who herself is finding the love of reading…
All because grandma wanted me to learn something while eating breakfast.