So picking my way through Dr. Seuss is how I learned to read.
It started with my mother reading Dr. Seuss stories to me as a child, and then, as my mother told it, I started reading Dr. Seuss to her before I turned three. The first Dr. Seuss book I ever read was Green Eggs and Ham.
Once I had read everything by Dr. Seuss several times, I eventually progressed to reading Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts, and other stuff. I also remember a fun little volume that couldn’t have been longer than 10–15 pages called Ant and Bee.
Since that time, I have read just about everything I could get my hands on, starting with just about everything in my parents’ library, which is where I found The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Native Son (by Richard Wright), Black Boy (By Richard Wright), and so many others. My parents had a ton of books about a ton of different subjects, and they were all stacked on shelves built by my father covering two walls in what we called simply The Middle Room, because it was located between my bedroom and theirs.
But my love of words and reading all started with some green eggs and ham nearly six decades ago when we still lived on Milwaukee Street before moving over to the white side of Denver where the schools were better. I gotta say it feels kinda funny that it took me this long to be forced to realize that green eggs and ham really doesn’t taste all that good.
Some things in life, even if they’re true, you kinda wish you didn’t have to know or find out about. Which would explain how I feel about Dr. Seuss being a blatant racist. Finding out about those ‘other’ drawings Dr. Seuss made so many years ago is sort of like being forced to face the horrific truth that the babysitter you had a crush on as a kid actually molested you when she wasn’t beating you up, but you had blacked all of that out because your child-sized brain couldn’t process the traumatic overload.
I mean seriously, Doc, what the fuck?
I suppose none of this should come as a shock, since racism is more or less the uninvited passenger traveling freely along America’s arterial highway. Wherever the blood flows throughout the body of the nation, the racism travels as well, hitching a ride to every nook and cranny.
And I’ve been Black in America a long time, so I really should be beyond surprise. Hell, I grew up with white kids in Denver, Colorado. And a lot of them were great kids and we remain friends to this day. But there were also those that I’m still learning kept a side of themselves hidden that I never would have imagined. To the point where all I can do anymore is shrug and move on.
But even now, there are memories that in spite of it all you want to hold onto and remember in the way you want it to be remembered. Like that Christmastime when I was a little kid going to Cherry Creek Shopping Center with my mother and there was that white cop steering traffic in and out. I told my mother I wanted to get him a Christmas present. And we did. My mother and I bought him a bottle of Mennen aftershave and then I handed it to him out of the car window as we left Cherry Creek, shouting “Merry Christmas Mr. Policeman!”
True story. No, I did not borrow this scene from a Leave It To Beaver episode (if you’re not old enough to remember Leave It to Beaver, Google it or ask somebody you consider to be ancient).
Anyway, the look of utter shock, and then heartfelt appreciation on that police officer’s face is something I will remember forever. Just like I will remember some of my other far less friendly encounters with the police as I grew older and became introduced to America beyond Christmas Day in Cherry Creek. And as I will forever remember Eric Garner and George Floyd and Rodney King and Breonna Taylor and all the rest.
My memories of my mother reading to me, and of me reading to my mother, are some of my most precious memories. Memories of how we would laugh and joke as I read from Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, and so many others are golden to me.
Or at least they were. The raw sewage of Dr. Seuss’ racism has been poured all over those memories like rancid gravy dripping all over Sunday dinner.
Being woke ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.