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Interview with Rebecca Motes

Motes, Rebecca
Childs, Anya
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers; Childhood adventures; Then and now
Rebecca Motes talks about growing up reading and reading to her own children.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Anya Childs interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
AC (Anya Childs): Tell me about where you grew up and, and what stories you were told or read to.
RM (Rebecca Motes): Well, I grew up in Warren, Pennsylvania, it was a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. And, when I started thinking about this, one of the first things that came to mind was, I remember, on Sunday afternoons my father would read the comics from the Sunday paper to me, and the one that I remember that we dwelled upon was a special comic, it wasn't a comic strip with frames, it was a, like a fourth of the length of the newspaper, and it was one big picture with lots of little captions and it was called "The Little People," and, these little people lived under flowers and it was kind of like an ant colony type thing of little people, and they had all kinds of adventures, and that's probably one of the earliest things I remember. We read the other comics too, but that was the one that was special, and it just, I remember going to my grandmother's house, she lived about forty miles from my home, and she lived out in the country on a river, and it was always very peaceful there. And I remember just sitting in her parlor on a Sunday afternoon with my father and he would be, I'd be sitting on his lap, and he would be reading these things to me. And that's just a real, warm and cozy type memory.
AC: Do remember any of the characters in that comic?
RM: No they were just little tiny people, running around, doing things, there were little family groups, and they had adventures, just basically, um, I don't remember anything in detail.
AC: Do you remember what newspaper it was?
RM: It was probably the Warren Times Mirror, which later became the Warren Times Mirror and Observer, but I think at that time it would have been the Warren Times Mirror. Um, but it was just a Sunday afternoon thing that we did, and, and one of the earliest memories, uh, memories of someone reading something to me. I know that my parents read a lot, because they had lots of books and it's really hard for me to remember any specific ones, I had them when I was really young. I remember one Saturday, my father took me to a bookstore in our town, and our town was real small, it had about fifteen thousand people, um, and he bought me a Bible story book, and it was thick and it was yellow, and I remember them reading the stories to me out of this Bible story book. Of course, I had a Bible, it was a white leather Bible, and I got it when I was seven, and, they did not read to me from that, I don't remember anything like that. Um, I remember reading parts of, you know, just little bits and pieces out of the Bible occasionally, when I was really young. Um, I had all the Little Golden Books that you bought at the Five, Five and Dime type stores, the Kmart's of yesteryear, um, and of course, they were, you know, Little Pokey, and, and all of the fairy tales were told in them, and I, I really knew all the fairy tale characters real well when I was little, so I, I, I imagine somebody must have read these to me. Um, kind of drawing a blank on that actual reading, but I, I knew all the characters and I knew, um, we didn't have a television until I was six, so I didn't get my information from there. Um, so but The Sleeping Beauty, uh, Peter Pan. Peter Pan in particular was one of my favorites. I always wanted to be Wendy. Tinker Bell, um, was a real character in my mind to me, and this Tinker Bell was really out there somewhere, and, and somehow she was connected to the Tooth Fairy. So, the Peter Pan things, I believed in, you know, Neverneverland, and, and the dog. I really liked the dog. I have always been the dog fan, so Nana the Dog was real important to me in that book. So that's probably one that, that really, now I remember really feeling sorry for, uh, Peter Pan because he didn't have a mother, and he lived with the wild boys in Neverneverland. And when I was in fifth grade, I had taken dancing lessons all of my little life, and when I was in fifth grade, our dancing school joined a, a group effort with, uh, a little theater production, and we did the musical Peter Pan and I was Captain Hook's, uh, assistant, right hand pirate, in this, in this play. And so, that was you know, my early stories coming to life for me right there when I got to be in the production of Peter Pan. Uh, Sleeping Beauty was a big one that uh, you know that I'll always remember and Cinderella. And I had the, I had the Cinderella book, and the little record that went on my record player that told, had the songs from the book, it must have been a little set that came together, but I remember playing the songs that went with the, uh, the book. And in that, of course, the mice that sang and danced were my favorite characters. And how they helped uh, Cinderella. I don't believe I knew about Beauty and the Beast at all, um, until, you know, I, I became an adult. Um, but all those other fairy tales, I remember like Three Little Pigs, that was one of the Golden Books that I had, and the illustrations. I just remember the illustrations from those books, and how, they were kind of scary, and I didn't like their artistic style. I would have drawn them differently. Um. [Long pause] [cough] We had this collection of Golden Books, and I just remember there were probably thirty or forty of them, and they, some of them just had nursery rhymes in them, there was one book of little kid prayers that we had, and I don't, like I said, I don't really remember a special time when we read together. I had these books, I am sure that they read them to me because I knew them, and I knew the stories. And I would sit and look at them myself. Uh, probably one of the, uh, things that come to mind here, when, I was quite young, and this was before I was seven years old, my grandparents lived around the block from my house, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom and always took care of me, but there were times when my aunt would baby sit if my mother had to go somewhere, sometimes I think maybe she just needed a break, I don't know. Now as a mother, now I look back on that and think that's probably what it was. Um, but my aunt lived \\ alone-. \\
FV (Female Voice): \\ Sherry Thomas, telephone please. Sherry Thomas, telephone please. \\
RM: \\ -In my grandparents' house, \\ after my grandparents had died, and it was a real big house. And, it had a lot of windows, and the, and the living room was very bright, and airy and fresh. And I remember going there and my aunt taking care of me, but my aunt would have to get ready to go to work, where she would have to, she worked a swing, a swing shift and she would um, sometimes go take a nap before she would go to work. And I was this real obedient child, and they would tell me, my aunt would tell me, to sit in the living room and not to leave the living room. And there, the living room was a very open room to the porch and to the dining room, and to a big central hallway. And I would sit in the living room and it was one of those rooms where nobody ever lived, and there was a piano in there, and a fireplace with built-in bookcases on both sides of it. And so, I would get up and walk around and look at all these books, and there was a very small selection of children's books, down in the lower corner, and there was only, actually there was only one, and it was Little Black Sambo, and I would just sit and look at this book, and look at this book, and look at this book, it seemed like for hours at a time. And, being in a, community where there were no black people, it was kind of a novelty for me to look at this book, and, later you know, with all the, the, uh, racial connotations of that book [cough]. Excuse me. Um, I look back on it and think, "What would, what did I think about it then?" I don't know what I thought. But, in this book, there were lots of illustrations and Little Black Sambo was always being chased by some jungle animal, and he was always trying to get away, and I guess because I wasn't an avid reader at that time, I'd you know, would just read the pictures. But I just remember Little Black Sambo always running through the jungle, trying to get away from some tiger, and I think something happened to the tiger in the story, I'm not sure, but, anyway, that's, that's, and I don't even know where that book is today. [Crying sounds in the background] What happened? [Long pause] So the Little Black Sambo books, uh, the part I remember the most was the tiger chasing Little Black Sambo through the jungle, and I remember just sitting there, looking and looking, at these books, over and over again. And, I don't remember in elementary school reading a lot of novels, and I was not an avid reader, and I didn't like to read, and I kind of avoided books for a long time. And then, um, I became a reading teacher. And I have my Master's degree in reading, so it's, as a reading specialist. So it's kind of ironic, but as a parent, um, [coughing] but, first as a, uh, teacher and then a mother, I found that I read a lot to my children, and we told stories and when my first child was just six months old we used to sit on the front porch and read all the Dr. Seuss books, and we look through, you know we read Curious George, and Dr. Seuss, and all of the picture books, and she was, she was exposed to language very, very young in the printed from, and then we told stories, and my son was born about four years later and we read with him, and we told all of these stories, we used to make up stories that went on and on and on, it was adventures, and they were always in the stories, and so they have, they, those are things that they remember, the stories that we made up that included them. Um, I, I really think that they're more avid readers than I ever was, because of the Accelerated Reader programs in elementary schools now, where they're kind of forced to become readers and get those points. [Pause] And, and with our third child, Jenny, who's now 10, she is an avid reader and getting those Accelerated Reader points, but also, reading a wide variety of children's literature, so our house now has always been filled with books, and our children have always had a lot of reading material available to them from early on.
AC: Does your husband read a lot?
RM: He reads a lot of nonfiction. Occasionally he'll pick up a, a fictional book and read it, but most of the time, 95 percent of what he reads is nonfiction. And he reads it to complete a project. He bought two books on computers and built one, that type of thing. Um, he is very interested in genealogy and, and historical things, and he will read about that. My son, who is seventeen, he reads mostly nonfiction, and again he is the type that we'll, you know, give him a book, or a magazine on a subject that interests him, and he's, he reads it, he knows it. My daughter who's in college, read for pleasure, and besides what she had to read she would read novels for pleasure, and Jenny reads, uh, all of the children's classic novels of today through school and things. And so, we're a family of readers, right now I read, I'm not a fictional reader, I read nonfiction also, usually it's, you know, it has to do with something I'm pursuing.
AC: Mm-hmm.
RM: It's more reading for a purpose than reading for pleasure, but we do enjoy. Uh, for birthdays and Christmas, nothing could please me more than have my husband go out and buy four or five expensive magazines that I would never buy for myself.
AC: Mm-hmm.
RM: That's, that's, it's a wonderful gift for me to get designer magazines. I love it. And I sit and read, and reread, and save, and can't throw them away.