Gerald W. Haslam
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What Horton Hatched


Gerald W. Haslam
Illustration by Garth Haslam

MY EARLIEST MEMORY is of sitting on my mother's lap listening to "Horton Hatches the Egg":
I meant what I said
and I said what I meant,
an elephant's faithful
one hundred percent....
As the only child of a working-class family during the Great Depression, I was read to constantly, and sung to constantly, and talked to constantly. Language and imagination were my companions.
Books in particular came to be magical instruments to me. My folks didn't own many volumes, but my mother visited the Oildale branch of the Kern County Library weekly, frequently taking me with her. There I gazed at illustrated editions while she made her choices—both children's and adults' books each visit. As nearly as I can recall, she always allowed me one choice of my own.
Those books were revered in our house, often read aloud, frequently discussed by the adults, and I was taught to read before beginning classes at Standard School. As soon as I acquired my own library card—a rite of passage in my family rivaled only when I received my driver's license ten years later—I became a regular at our neighborhood library.
There I, like my pals, was encouraged and directed by generous ladies who seemed to believe that all we barefooted, we burnished, we generally disheveled kids were worthy of their hope. What we couldn't recognize (but those librarians certainly did) as we dug through dinosaur books and pirate yarns, was that we had begun the process of sharing the accumulated wisdom of our culture…indeed, of our species. That idea was far too remote and elevated to have crossed our minds at the time.
But that is exactly what we—we Okies, we Bloods, we Chili-Chokers... whatever we were called then—were doing: building the foundation that has allowed us to participate in our shared culture. And in doing so, we have changed and shaped it. In our cultural hearts, we are all part African, all part Asian, all part European, all part of everything that filled those books that stirred our minds.
For me it started with a faithful elephant sitting on a lazy bird's egg, and with my mother's voice. Sadly, Mom is no longer with us, but that egg continues hatching, a library's enduring legacy: mother to son, son to granddaughter, granddaughter to . . . the world, faithful, one hundred percent.
What Horton hatched for me was my life.

—Gerald W. Haslam

“What Horton Hatched” originally appeared in A Free Library for This City, by Peter Booth Wiley

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