A Farewell to Norman and Big, Red Dogs

So, I haven’t been able to write on this blog since the very beginning of the school year. And although it pains me to see that my last post was over 100 days ago, I like to believe I have valid reasons. Mostly I just couldn’t seem to justify taking time out of my busy life to write these little posts instead of writing, say, college supplement essays. However, a recent event has left me in a state of reflection and in dire need of just typing it all out. Bear with me because this is unedited rambling.

On December 12th — the day after my 18th birthday — Norman Bridwell died. Most of you won’t recognize the name, but many will recognize his legacy. He was the author of the beloved “Clifford the Big Red Dog” books.

That’s not all he was to me, though. The series he wrote marked the beginning to a long road of self-discovery and identity for me. And here’s how it happened.

For preschool, I went to Sunshine Montessori. And let me tell you, that place was intense. It was all about order, organization, and coloring within the lines. Unfortunately for me, I was not about any of those things. I was constantly causing my teachers great dismay by scribbling wherever my hand wanted to take me and encouraging the other preschoolers to do the same.

One thing the teachers knew could always calm me down was a good book. In awe, I’d sit complacently with the other children at story time as the stories would unfold with every page turn. I loved books but I couldn’t read yet. So I watched attentively each time and memorized every storytelling technique.

One day, I decided to test my newfound knowledge. I gathered all of the kids I knew were younger than me (which couldn’t have been too many since I was only three) and brought them to the “reading corner.” I vividly remember grabbing a Clifford book and the wooden stool the teachers commonly used.

Mimicking what I had seen from my teachers, I sat up straight and held the book open so the other preschoolers could see the pictures. Then, I looked at the illustrations and made up a story that I thought could go along with them. I remember how impressed the other kids were and how I pridefully assured them that, yes, of course I knew how to read!

I didn’t fool everyone, though. One of my teachers saw me for the imposter that I was and walked over to me chuckling.

She said, “I think it’s time you learn how to read.”

And the rest was history. After I got over my embarrassment and stubbornness about the subject, I began learning how to read. There were different levels of “practice” books I had to go through before picking up a “real” story. (Again, my preschool was intense.) This of course bothered me to no end. I was sick of reading “The cat sat on the mat” and other meaningless stories. However, I stuck with it and finally got through “Level D.” I could now read any story I wanted and to whomever I chose, and the world was that much more magical.

Norman Bridwell can be seemingly irrelevant in this story. I really could have picked up any book that day to fake-read and it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But for some strange reason, Norman died the first day of my “adult life.” In a way, it really just drills in the idea that my childhood is kind of…over. In a short eight months, I’ll be off to college and big, red dogs won’t exist anymore. So, yikes.

All in all, I really can’t thank Mr. Bridwell enough. He was the beginning to my independence with literature, the end to my dependence on “story time.”

And something inside me tells me that there’s a reason I remember this story fifteen years later. You might not believe in fate, and I’m not even 100% that I do either, but either way, Norman’s death will not be forgotten by at least one kid that he influenced. That’s pretty cheesy, but without further adieu…

Farewell, Norman Bridwell. You may be gone, and my childhood might be ending too, but I like to think that you’ve played an important part in how I’ve become who I am. clifford