The summer I turned nine, we moved into a house much closer to my mother's large extended family than I could remember ever living before. My mother was one of eleven children so we suddenly found ourselves spending lots of time with aunts, uncles and cousins who had very nearly been strangers up to that point.
That first summer, we had a house-warming party, hosting at least thirty or forty people. My Aunt Joyce arrived a little late and wandered into the kitchen where my mother was arranging casserole dishes that others had brought.
My aunt looked over Mom's shoulder and said, "I didn't know we were supposed to bring a dish-to-pass."
Mom said, "We weren't expecting anything but your presence."
Aunt Joyce smirked and said, "We didn't bring you any of those either."
Presence. Presents. Heh.
Having not yet entered fourth grade, I doubt I had ever seen the word "presence" in print, though I might well have seen "presents." Either way, I not only got the joke, but loved the wordplay. It is one of many incidents that reinforced my interest in words, in reading and writing and, therefore, reinforced what has turned out to be a fundamental piece of my identity.
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