A Professor of a Child
The name Jacob Alexander Cody is recorded on my birth certificate, but no one except Grandma ever referred to me as Jacob. I never was a Jake or Jack or Jay. In fact, everyone else called me Professor, or Prof for short - a nickname that fit even as a toddler, back when I first fell in love with books.
Early childhood book-related memories linger even today, and my mother’s stories have filled many remaining gaps. I still remember how each evening the after-dinner ritual included prolonged baths, complete with Mr. Bubble’s foam that never lasted long enough to suit me. Then Mom invited me to pick out books. “C’mon Prof, I’ll be waitin’ in Bookworm Heaven.” This was a spot on the end of the broken-down sofa where we curled up to read in a soft nest of floppy feather pillows under a gnat-encircled lamp.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever remained at the top of my list for weeks and months at a time. Mom and I explored its vast wealth of practical knowledge about life – cooking, dressing, learning, putting out fires – all illustrated with pictures of trustworthy, approachable little animal-mentors who seemed to have hearts, souls, and motives that were just my size.
I languished over Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, and worshipped that chubby-cheeked policeman, Michael, who stopped legions of duck-squashing cars with only a whistle and his bare hands so quack-quacking mama and her waddling babies could cross the street safely.
Another favorite, Play With Me by Marie Hall Ets, featured a girl who went to the meadow for some solitary play while morning dew still clung to the grass. She spent much of her day waiting quietly for wild animals to approach, accept, and finally adopt her. I was captivated by her willingness to wait so well and so patiently, and with such great reward.
One evening after the conclusion of our reading time, I bunched my pajama-clad body into a tighter knee-to-chin flannel wad. “Maw-ma … what’s YOUR favorite book?”
My mother had a way of locking her fingers together until the knuckles turned white when she was very serious about something, and they looked almost like winter ice when she answered me. “Why Prof - the Bible. It’s the greatest book ever written. GOD wrote it.” She said His name like this - GAAAAWD - with buggy eyes and a tilted-back head, as if she actually could see His face beyond the ceiling with x-ray vision.
I believed her, of course. My storybooks seemed like ports of entry to other worlds, inviting me to meet characters and visit places I’d never been. I didn’t realize then how they also often exposed truths about life – about pain and suffering, and healing and victory – that whetted my developing soul-appetite for God’s Good Book.
As a dependent little sponge, I not only readily accepted whatever came my way, but also maintained an ever-ready attitude of expectant and thoughtful curiosity. For example, whenever Mom studied her Bible, I hurried to my private station beneath the dining room table with coloring books and crayons in hand.
“Prof, what ‘cha doin’ down there?” I often didn’t bother to answer, and she didn’t press me. Perhaps she thought I colored my way into oblivion in my spot by her feet, focusing all the while on scribbling inside the lines of those cats, farmers, stars and moons.
In reality, I was busy with my primary jobs: fantasizing and daydreaming. While she covered the tabletop with open Bibles and furiously flipped between translations to cross-reference - pausing only occasionally to scribble notations in a notebook - I flopped across the eagle-clawed feet of the massive mahogany pedestal table, stirred my own pages, and twiddled my crayons between my fingers. From that humble position I envisioned her above me (like one of Richard Scarry’s eager students) and God above her (like Michael the policeman) and myself beneath them both (like that scraggly-haired little girl in Play With Me who was willing to purposefully wait – and wait some more).
I didn’t know at the time how years of gorging on a continual literary feast of dog-eared children’s classics would prepare me to become a PhD university professor – Dr. Jacob Cody (aka “Prof”). I also didn’t realize how God would use those volumes to teach me many vital principles, including the need to live my adult life as His dependent, accepting, and expectant child.
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