Jacob burst through the back door and ran past me into the living room. He jumped onto the couch and looked out the window at the street beyond.
“Is it here? Did it come?” he asked.
“Did what come?” I said with a sly grin.
He turned his head and gave me the same annoyed look his mother used to give me when she was four. “My new book, Gramma.”
I sat down next to him. “You asked me yesterday if it came,” I said.
“And the day before.”
“Wait, I think I heard the mail truck,” he shouted.
“All the way from the backyard?”
“It sounds different than other cars.”
He was still standing on the cushions, leaning into the back of the sofa, looking out the window. “See?” he pointed. “There he is down the street! I told you I heard him!” He jumped off the couch and ran to the door. “Can you go see if it came, Gramma?”
I got up slowly, perhaps with some exaggerated effort so I could watch him squirm a little longer. I had to admit, though, that I was excited, too. Maybe even more than him. We were due for a new book in the mail.
“Jacob could run circles around me all day long and at seventy years old, I just couldn’t keep up. But reading was one of the things we could do together.”
Jacob had been living with me full-time since he was two. And I loved every second of it. My grandson is truly the center of my little world here in Old West End.
“Why don’t you go and put the record on while you wait,” I said. He ran over to the stereo as I stepped outside. It was getting chilly. Fall was upon us. Pretty soon it would be too cold for Jacob to play out in the backyard every day. Next year he would be in kindergarten, but for now it was up to me to keep his mind occupied during the afternoon hours.
I couldn’t afford the things that most boys wanted, like bikes and video games. But we managed just fine with some low-tech entertainment. He loved board games. And to my surprise, my old record player. I heard the opening chorus of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” coming from the house. Jacob had it turned up loud. I turned back towards the house and saw him in the window. He pointed toward the mailbox at the curb and mouthed “go”.
It was our ritual. The day an Imagination Library book arrived in the mail, we’d play a Dolly Parton record to celebrate and pay tribute to the woman who had started the free book delivery program. Then we’d huddle together on the couch and read.
He’d gotten pretty good at reading the words on his own by that point. His pre-K teacher had recently told me he tested at the top of his class in reading and spelling. The first book we had received from Imagination Library was “The Little Engine That Could.” Every month after that, a new book and a new adventure awaited for us to take together.
As I opened my curbside mailbox, I looked down the street and wondered how many other children in the neighborhood would be excited to see if today was the day that their new book would arrive.
I opened the mailbox and peeked inside, then looked up and smiled at Jacob, staring eagerly in the living room window.
This post is brought to you by the generous support of Hylant, one of the country’s largest privately-held insurance brokerages. Hylant is committed to supporting the communities where their clients and 650+ employees live, by creating a culture of caring, philanthropy and personal enrichment.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program support of Women’s Initiative of United Way. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.