Mary Grabar

In my ignorance, I once held hopes of gaining entrance into a club more exclusive than any country club or nightclub.

Having been educated in public schools and therefore exposed to only one form of thought, I thought this club represented intellectualism.

My first exposure to intellectual thought was a shelf filled with dime store Golden Books. One of the American “ladies” had heard about the cleaning abilities of a Slovenian immigrant woman who was laid off from her job in a factory. So this lady picked my mother and me up and drove us out to her big house in the suburbs. The drive was a special treat for me, for I rarely got car rides; my family would not own a car until I was twelve.

As my mother cleaned upstairs, my eyes caught sight of a shelf, fairly glowing gold in the sunshine streaming through the large picture window. There were dozens of dime store Golden Books lined up! The children that lived here must truly be rich, I thought. My sister and I had one Golden Book between us, Hiawatha and Little Bear, that my father struggled to sound the words from. In later years I realized that he was probably functionally illiterate in his native Slovenian, having only a fourth-grade education. One of nine children, he slept with his brothers in the hayloft because there wasn’t enough bed space in the two-room straw-thatched house. No time could be spent on school when all hands were needed in the fields.

I skipped kindergarten so my mother could work in the factory and longed for the written word. After some catching up, I became a star reader in the first grade.

I also began noticing “class distinctions.” The children whose houses my mother cleaned often made fun of our ways. They mocked our language, my Slovenian-style braids. They made fun of the fact that I wore their older sisters’ hand-me-downs. These children were driven to dance lessons, music lessons, and outings by their mothers. They were fawned over and bragged about. They carelessly left their Golden Books lying about and later would complain about having to read. I was taught how to clean so I’d be able to earn my own money a few years down the road.

As soon as I could, I took advantage of what a library card could offer me.

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at