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Starting down the book path

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LAURA INGALLS WILDER started it. She, and my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kolminisky, to be exact. One day, Mrs. K. decided that I had a reading problem, improbable as that may sound to anybody who has known me since then. In particular, she had the impression I daydreamed too much and read too little, although I wasn't paying enough attention to verify this fact. On that day, she pushed her bobby pins into the hairnet that kept her chignon in place. Then, in a severe tone, she told me to stay after class.

``I've noticed you're not interested in your schoolwork,'' she said. ``You don't read as well as your teacher said you could last June. And whenever I look at you, you're staring out the window.''

I shivered in my saddle shoes. I'd never been in trouble with a teacher before. Staying after school was a major catastrophe. Daydreaming was the most important part of my day. I felt an urge to do it then.

``I know you're a smart girl,'' she went on. ``Why, you could even be the smartest in class - if you paid attention. Tell me, do you read at home?''

I nodded.

``What do you read?''

I mentioned the comics in the newspaper, Life magazine, and the ``P'' encyclopedia. Mrs. K. raised an eyebrow.

``P, for paintings,'' I explained. ``There's a section of famous paintings, in color.'' I pictured myself sailing at sunset, as if in one of Turner's impressionistic masterpieces.

I also mentioned I read library books my parents got for me. They chose primers like the ones in school. I turned up my nose on recalling this plebeian fare and sighed as my gaze shifted inadvertently toward the window.

The snap of her compact as she opened it brought my attention back to Mrs. K. She smiled a knowing smile, as she watched a scene that seemed to be taking place just beyond her mirror. Then, with a conclusive, triumphant look, she painted on a big red lipstick smile that got even bigger when she smiled at me.

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