"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
I was immediately captivated. Where was Papa going with that ax?
Well, he was going out to the hog house to kill the runt of the new pig litter because it was too small to survive. Fern chases her father down and pleads for the pig's life. Fern was older than me. She was 8. I was 6. Fern was brave, smart and loyal. Fern fought for justice and fairness and miracles. Fern was my hero.
Charlotte's Web was the first long book I read by myself. It was quite an undertaking, being 184 pages long. My main trouble with the book came with the introduction of a confusing new word: "trough". As in "pig trough." What was this word that looked like "though" and "through”, and how was it pronounced? I asked my mom how to say the word, and was shocked that the "gh" was pronounced "f". I would never have guessed it in a million years. I very badly wanted into the secret world of words, and "trough" was a triumph.
Halfway through the book, disaster struck. My first grade teacher was a large, imposing woman with dyed red hair and an endless supply of sensible shoes and sturdy, navy blue dresses. She often yelled at her class of six year olds. School that year was a far cry from the bright and colorful year of Kindergarten the year before.
At recess, I sat down in the hallway and opened the book. My teacher had an eagle eye and caught me reading Charlotte's Web. She asked me what I was doing. I said I was reading. She told me that my reading level was far below this book and that I was not able to read it. I was too intimidated to protest, and the book was confiscated and put into her desk drawer.
"I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."
I was devastated. I was not devastated because I’d gotten in trouble at school. I was devastated because I thought I’d never find out what happened next in the story. Would Charlotte continue to write words in her web? Would Wilbur be saved? Would Templeton become a reliable friend in the end? Would Fern's battle for justice be won? Would the miracle happen? The book was taken away from me and I was bitterly disappointed. More accurately, I was heartbroken.
I needed help. And I knew what I had to do. I had to tell my mom.
My mom, an elementary school teacher in the same school district, made a call to my teacher that night. There was a tension-filled conversation from behind her closed bedroom door. I paced the living room. And when my mom finally opened her bedroom door, she told me that the matter was settled. The book would be returned to me the next day after school.
And that's exactly what happened. I walked to the front of the classroom the next afternoon, and without a word, I was handed the book. Clutching it to me, I quickly walked away from her and out of the classroom. I had my book back. I had my miracle.
"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
Had this incident happened with another book, I don't know that I would have wanted it back so badly. Or that I would have told my mom I had gotten in trouble at school. It is likely I would have believed my teacher was right, the book was too hard for me, and I was too young to read it. It is likely I might not have picked up another book simply for the joy of reading a story and learning new words. But this book, this book, was different. This book was worth fighting for. This book, of all the books in the world, was the one I knew I had the right to read.
E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web taught me that it was good to be angry for things, not angry at things. He taught me that fighting for just causes was right, that grownups don't know everything and that sometimes they make mistakes. But most of all, he taught me that sometimes creating miracles takes behind the scenes effort.
"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer."
Mr. White, I never knew you, but you were both.
Erin Parker started out as an English major, fell in love with Art History, and ended up in art school studying commercial Interior Design. Erin won her first Creative Writing contest when she was 11, and has been writing ever since. Her work has been published by Uno Kudo, Red Fez, Drunk Monkeys, Cadence Collective, Lost in Thought, Timid Pirate Publishing, The Altar Collective, Santa Fe Lit Review, and Lucid Moose Lit’s anthology Like a Girl: Perspectives on Female Identity. Erin was a finalist in the 2012 NGR Literary Honors contest, was nominated for Best of the Net 2014, and is an editor for Uno Kudo and a flash fiction editor for JMWW.
Erin has work forthcoming in an anthology from Silver Birch Press that marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. Her first collection of short stories, The Secret and the Sacred, will be released from Unknown Press in the Fall of 2015.
Visit her online at erinkparker.com