Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 5, 2020

Bedtime stories

Do you have something to read to me tonight?

It's a question I've asked husband Art frequently the past few years as we head off to bed. Over our 30-plus year marriage, we've often read short articles to each other, but doing so at the end of the day is a more recent phenomenon. It may have begun when, after crawling into bed, he would read the "Vital Signs" article from each month's Discover magazine. These true stories are about medical mysteries, most often set in the emergency room. Engaging my curiosity takes my mind off the concerns of the day, while their resolution leaves me ready to drift off.

But Art's brother Tommy may be the most responsible for this becoming a regular thing. He sends a monthly "newsletter" that includes clippings from various newspapers and other printed materials, including personal comments written in the margins. One of us would read aloud one or two articles as a day closer.

Like many parents, I read to daughters Mariya and Katie at bedtime from the time they could sit on my lap until they were well into their grade-school years. Frequently I was tired and would tell them I was only going to read a few pages. But more often than not, I completed the books.

Mariya remembers me reading "Goodnight Moon," "Love You Forever" and many others. Among Katie's favorites were "Oh, the Places You'll Go" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

"My memory of being read to before bed is more of a feeling than a moment in time," Mariya told me. "It was a regular occurrence where I felt connected and cared for that became a part of the patchwork of my childhood. Ive always loved stories and books, and being read to helped to instill a curiosity about the works and a voracious reading habit as I grew older."

When I think back to those days, I get a little wistful, yet also have to smile. It would begin as a chore and end up being one of the treasured times of the day - a time to unwind, to snuggle and to share a common love of stories.

But adults reading to adults? According to Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author of "The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction," reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology seems to pull people in different directions.

A Wall Street Journal overview of her book describes reading aloud as follows:

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, "The Enchanted Hour" explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But its not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.

Art and I have now taken to reading books to each other as well. It began while we were visiting his family in Wisconsin. I developed a bad cold and it was a time when I didn't feel well enough to do much, yet was impatient with doing nothing. Although the story of a serial killer was not my favorite topic, "The Man from the Train" sparked my curiosity. It was a true story about a man who went from town to town via train in the early 1900s and stopped at seemingly randomly locations to kill. The Kansas author and his daughter did extensive research and even stumbled upon a likely candidate for the killer.

We polished that book off on our return trip to Kansas. The miles seemed to slip by quickly with Art driving and my reading the last few chapters aloud. It even prompted my March 1, 2019 column, "The man from the bus," about a serial killer who struck here in Manhattan.

Portions of the next two 800-mile journeys to and from Wisconsin passed by while I read aloud C. J. Janovy's "No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas."

Two weeks ago, I suggested that we make a book Art had just bought a bedtime story source. The previous two books had a Kansas connection, but "Eva and Otto: Resistance, Refugees, and Love in the Time of Hitler" had a personal connection for Art while touching on a subject we are both interested in.

The back cover describes it as a true story about German opposition to Hitler "as revealed through the lives of Eva Lewinski ... and Otto Pfister ... an epic account of two Germans - Eva born Jewish, Otto born Catholic - who worked with a little-known German political group that resisted and fought against Hitler. ... After their improbable escapes ... Eva obtained refuge in America ... where she worked to rescue other endangered political refugees, including Otto, with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt ..."

Art had recently reconnected with his high school classmate Neil Stillings. They discussed what they had been up to for the past 58 years, and Art mentioned our interest in family history and World War II, and that we have re-traced our families' journeys from Europe. Neil suggested we might be interested in the book written by his wife Kathy and her brothers Tom and Peter. They are Eva's and Otto's children and wrote the book based on their parents' diaries, letters, an unpublished memoir, documents related to their anti-Nazi work and archival materials from the U.S. and Germany.

Certainly this book is nothing like the ones I read to the girls as a way to complete the day when they were small. Still, reading a few pages each night of "Eva and Otto" has broadened our understanding of a topic we are interested in, while also causing us to complete the day feeling, to use Mariya's words, connected and cared for.

Upper-left: Gloria reading "The Poky Little Puppy" to Mariya; bottom-left: Grandpa Freeland reading "Goodnight Moon" to Katie; right: big sister reading a Christmas sing-along book to a pleased little sister

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