Kelsey Draves is excited because tonight she’s packing her “jammies” and heading to a friend’s house for a sleepover. Seeing she’s just nine-years old there will be giggles and games, pizza and playtime and it’s safe to say none of her friends in Voorheesville will get a good night’s sleep tonight.
What makes Kelsey’s visit different than the other little girls at the party comes with the ringing of the telephone. You see, before the lights go out Kelsey’s dad Ed will call her, not so much to say goodnight, but to keep a promise the two of them made long ago. Kelsey will bounce up and run to the phone, but not before flashing a smile to her friends and uttering two words they’ve come to know: “The Streak.”
For you to understand this moment and what’s going to happen every night for the next nine years between Kelsey and her father, you have to go back to Sunday morning, March 28, 2010 in the Draves home. Eileen, that’s Kelsey’s mom, happened upon an article in the NY Times about a single dad who was worried about losing his daughter to a world full of hurt, lies and bad choices. This man didn’t have much to give, but what he did possess was an abundance of time. So he made her a promise. Every night, no matter what, he’d read to her for a few minutes before she closed her eyes to sleep. One night became two, then 10, then 100 nights in a row of reading to her. They started when that little girl was in fourth grade and continued until her first day at college: 3,218 consecutive days. It changed that child’s life, perhaps even saved it.
Eileen shared this moving story and as Ed tells us, “At that moment, Kelsey and I made each other a promise. Every evening, no matter what was going on I will make time to read to her. There will be no exceptions. We even had a name for it; we’d call it ‘The Streak.’”
For this to work Kelsey insisted there be rules. “Yes. He has to read to me for at least ten minutes every night and it must be before midnight or it doesn’t count,” she said. Most nights he reads to her in person, but since Ed sometimes travels for business and Kelsey has those fabulous sleepovers now and then, it would be okay if he read to her over the phone. Kelsey again, “My friends know what’s going on and they think it’s cool. The reading helps me do good in school and I like the stories, but mostly I like it because I get to spend time with my Dad.”
On September 1, 2011 The Streak between Kelsey and Ed reached 523 consecutive nights. They’ve lost track of how many books they’ve gone through, 20 or 30 is their best guess, and there have been some close calls.
“One time I was at a business dinner at Smith and Wollensky in Manhattan when I looked at my watch and realized I had to leave the table and call Kelsey from the busy sidewalk,” Ed said.
“Another time in Rochester I excused myself from a meeting and there I am hiding behind two potted plants reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Let me tell you people give you some pretty funny looks.”
Baseball is a sport full of streaks so it’s ironic that the night this almost ended came when Ed went to Yankee Stadium. He thought ahead and had the book they were reading downloaded on his iPad and brought it with him, but security wouldn’t let him bring it into the game. Solution? Ed purchased a copy of Yankees Magazine, called Kelsey from his seat and read her a story about Babe Ruth. Streak saved!
Talking to the two of them I can tell two things for certain: they adore each other and this won’t end until Kelsey is in college. On that happy (and I suspect sad) day they will reach 11 years or over 4,000 nights of reading, bonding and growing. What they’re doing reminds all of us that life isn’t really about one singular event, but many splinters of time that on their own seem insignificant, but pieced together build something strong and lasting.
The little girl from the newspaper article who inspired all of this is named Alice Ozma. Her father’s commitment to her led to a happy childhood, wonderful grades and a degree with honors from Rutgers University in guess what? English Literature, of course. Alice wrote a book about her amazing father and this journey called The Reading Promise. Kelsey Draves gave the book to her Dad on Father’s Day. I contacted Alice to tell her about Kelsey and Ed and The Streak she inspired and she was genuinely touched.
“It’s a little overwhelming to think that our story has impacted people so greatly. Just amazing and heartwarming. I hope others will follow in their footsteps,” she said.
Walk around a bookstore on a rainy day and you’ll see it full of people looking for that one book to change their lives. Make me richer, smarter, thinner and happier. Maybe the secret is not in one book but in a thousand, read between a father and daughter, where in the final chapter they become more important than the characters they meet. Or as Ed sees it, “Kelsey and I, this is a part of us now. It’s what we do. And it’s brought us so much closer.”
A promise made. A promise kept. A little girl named Kelsey who loves her daddy and can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.