I’ll never forget the soothing sounds of winter mornings in the upstairs bedroom of the 100-year-old clapboard house where I was raised. The neighbor across the road from us drove a school bus so he would often start his bus quite early on bone-chilling mornings.

Time had taken its toll on the nooks and crannies around the window so it was not unusual for me to see my breath vividly when I first crawled out from under the warm comforts I had slept under.

But the thing I liked best about those early mornings was the opportunity to snuggle in and read a book while the smell of bacon and fresh cinnamon rolls drifted up the staircase from the kitchen below.

When I was in the sixth grade, there was a year-long reading contest. There was a chart in the back of the classroom, just beside the classroom library shelves, where we charted and kept count of every book that we read.

By that time, there was nothing I enjoyed more than reading, and the motivational factor of reading more than anyone else in the class proved to be just the right combination.

At the time, I was into a series of books about mountaineer Jim Bridger. Often, I could be found, still snuggled in bed at 5:30 a.m. reading the book I had laid on the end table the night before. The lull of the school bus engine provided a soothing touch to the entire atmosphere.

Everywhere I went, I carried the “current book” with me. I would read on the bus on the way to school; I read during free time in class, and often I could be found in the evening beside the crackling fires of the old wood stove, hypnotized by the likes of Bridger books, Aesop’s Fables, stories by Rudyard Kipling, the Bobbsey Twins (earlier), and the likes of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The reading of Mark Twain’s books was enhanced because our family had visited his boyhood home and surroundings in Hannibal, Missouri, on a couple of occasions during western trips to a cousin’s in Nebraska.

My first memories of enjoying books were those of crawling on the lap of my mother, father, or grandmother at bedtime to enjoy the reading of a book right before I said my bedtime prayers and scampered to bed. I had several favorite stories, but the one that I always chose the most was, “Jack and the Beanstalk.,” the story of a boy who was given money by his mother to invest in town. Instead, Jack bought alleged magic beans, much to the dismay of his mother.

In the end, the magic beans grew into the sky and one morning Jack climbed the stalk to another kingdom where he recovered gold and wealth. A large giant spotted Jack scampering back down the stalk and chased him, but the young lad was able to chop down the beanstalk in time to present the surprise wealth to his mother for her to enjoy for the remainder of her life.

As I advanced in elementary school, a new enjoyable experience for our family was obtaining library cards in two local libraries. I loved the experience of choosing and checking out books to read, as did my parents. Quite often, on Saturdays, we would go to town for groceries, followed by a trip to the library to obtain the latest reading.

Then, as I grew older, I used to compose my own stories at the kitchen table, often with the use of candlelight to act out the times of the stories that I had been reading about.

These days I look back on those days and realize that the time I put into reading then had much to do with the way I write now. More than that, I find soothing relaxation in “rereading” many of those stories in my mind, and especially the homey setting in which I enjoyed them.

As for that sixth grade reading contest, I read 39 books that year, just two behind the first place winner that read 41 books. But many of them dealt with history, a matter that programmed a topic in my soul that still flows through my bloodstream and comes out through “writer’s ink” as one of my most important writing topics.

And at bedtime, when it’s hard to go to sleep, this ole’ guy still likes to escape to that land somewhere above the beanstalk, the home of Mr. Sandman and many other soothing memories.

As I drift off to sleep, I see it again, from the shelter of my mother’s lap, “But Jack jumped down and got hold of the axe and gave a chop at the beanstalk which cut it half in two. The giant felt the beanstalk shake and quiver so he stopped to see what was the matter. Then Jack gave another chop with the axe, and the beanstalk was cut in two and began to topple off. The giant fell down and broke his crown, and the beanstalk came tumbling after.

“Then Jack showed his mother his golden harp, and what with showing that and selling the golden eggs, Jack and his mother became very rich, and he married a great princess; and they lived happy ever after.”