Are You A Reader?

A woman is smiling while reading a book.

I have quite a few friends that love to read, some more avidly than others, but all readers nonetheless. I also have friends that read very little and have no inclination to ever start doing so. Each member of those two groups bring something special to the table. I find the non-readers to be more effective about discussing interpersonal relationships and things happening in their life. The readers seem to have a more varied list of things to discuss and often an anecdote to clarify their thoughts. I think it is important to have both groups in your life and that each be given the attention they deserve. I have known illiterate people that had a lot of common sense, and extremely smart people that lacked common sense. Somewhere in there is common ground that allows all of us to pitch our tent. Years ago I had a close family member that was illiterate and, though I offered to tutor her, she was content to remain so. She was an excellent cook, using recipes stored somewhere in the far corners of her brain, and was a kind and generous person to all. I was always intrigued by the fact that she couldn’t travel to faraway places in her mind, or read wonderful novels, or even read the local newspaper. She did, however, seem to be happy and, in the scheme of things, that really seems to be what we all strive for. Maybe happiness lives where things are as simple as a drop of honey on the tip of a tongue, a joke told to old friends as a friendly effort to make them laugh, a donut eaten without anyone noticing, or even a hug that lets someone know you cherish their presence. So, why do a lot of us read so much? I think T.S. Eliot had it right; “We read many books, because we cannot know enough people.â€

I realized the other day that I hadn’t made any New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, and I started to wonder why. I think it is an age-related thing. At 76, I’m thankful for each and every day, and I don’t seem to worry a lot about reaching goals. I believe the penchant to set goals belongs to those much younger and have so much life to look forward to. Goals for older people are much more modest than those for the younger group. Heck, some days I get up with absolutely no goal in mind and yet, the day goes by smoothly. I guess if I had a goal (a goal without a plan is just a wish), it would be to continue aging without some dreaded disease. We know that is not entirely up to us! Research shows that the chances of acquiring one of three diseases (cancer, heart disease, dementia) simultaneously rises ten-fold between the ages of 70 and 80, then ten-fold again during the following decade of life. We can help avoid that, I’m told, by eating properly, exercising, not smoking, not drinking, and getting plenty of sleep. We also know that 85% of all people that attain the age of 100 are female. I have a theory on why that happens, but that’s a thought for another time. Anyway, I do not have any New Year’s resolutions and am perfectly happy to wander aimlessly thru life wondering what’s going to happen next. “There is one who remembers the way to your door: Life you may evade, but Death you shall notâ€. ― T.S. Eliot

My wife & I were taking our daily walk the other day and after walking 1 mile out and returning to the car, she departed for the grocery store and I continued on for 3 more miles. I had planned on listening to an audiobook that was on my iPod (Valiant Ambition by Nat Philbrick) but alas, its battery was low and it refused to entertain me as I confidently marched towards my goal of 10,000 steps daily. I have known for a long time that if I occupy my mind with something the time goes by quickly. Lo and behold, using that strategy, before I knew it my hourly walk was over and I had mentally written this entry as part of my next missive. I was hoping I would remember it when I got home. So, here it is:
It’s 1945-46, WWII is winding down and I’m four or five years old. I’m sitting down at the edge of the yard at my maternal grandparent’s home, watching cars whiz by on their way to the only town in our county (Grundy, VA). The day is bright and sunny and all the cars have their windows down (no A/C during those days) so fresh air can keep the occupants cool. As one of the cars went by, a fellow in the back seat stuck his head out the window, for some unknow reason, and his nice Stetson felt hat blew off his head. Before they could turn around and return, that hat was firmly in my hand and I was standing inside the house handing it to Grandpa. He had a big smile on his face and remarked that a Stetson is one of the finest hats on earth (founded in 1865). A few days later Grandma sent me to the Stanley’s local store with a dime to get a loaf of bread. It was a very small family store the locals used to buy needed items before their next visit to a much larger store in Grundy. I noticed a shiny new Ford sitting out front as I entered. The driver was sitting on the bench against the wall waiting his turn. The counter was kinda tall and hard for a small kid to see over and as the driver of the new car stepped forward to make his purchase he pulled change from his pocket and a $20 bill floated to the floor right in front of me. Surely, but calmly, I place my foot over it and waited his departure. My foot stayed planted until he was in his car and I then informed Mrs. Stanley the reason for my visit. She turned to get the loaf of bread and I quickly reach down and grabbed the bill, placing it in my pocket before she saw what happened. When you are so poor that food is problematic, you do things that, in retrospect, you’re not proud of. I never started my day wondering what I could steal, but wondering what I would find to eat. Is that an excuse to steal? Probably not a good one, but when you are so desperate for food that you snatch orange peelings from the side of the road to eat, it may justify taking advantage of opportunities. My grandparents never encouraged me to do those things, but I was never criticized for my larceny. Anyway, back to my story. As I returned home with that $20 firmly tucked in my pocket ($265 in today’s currency), a smile as wide as all outdoors was plastered on my face. I handed Grandma the loaf of bread and as she turned to place it on the table, I pulled out the $20 bill and placed it in her hand. Now, all of a sudden, her smile was as big as mine and happiness bounced off the walls, out the open windows, and down the hollow. Visions of Grandma’s good cooking were bouncing around in my head and I was a happy kid. To my horror, she yelled for Grandpa, “Lonnie, come see what Tommy Joe brought home!â€. Just as I suspected, Grandpa snatched the money from her hand, went down to the road, waited on the next bus, and headed off to the beer-joint he likes in Grundy called the “Wigwamâ€. It’s hard to describe the sadness that was deep within me as that bus stopped, opened up its door, and Grandpa stepped in. He didn’t return until all that money was gone, and I’m guessing I was being taught that ill-gotten gains seldom result in happy outcomes. Oh yes, Grandpa sold the hat before the week was over. “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, then a germ”. – John Steinbeck

Richard Nixon famously said; “People react to fear not loveâ€. Somehow, I think he is right, tho I wish he wasn’t. Most of us react to things we are fearful of and try to prevent them from happening. That’s when we find out how little power we really possess. So many of the people I care about are facing medical, financial, and personal difficulties and, mostly, I can only offer emotional support. They are on my “Prayer List†and are included every day as I ask God to help them with their particular problem. This brings to mind something I remember happening when I was around 8 years old: I was up in the “holler†visiting with my paternal grandparents and we were sitting out on the front porch. They were concerned about a distant relative that was recently put in a wheelchair with no hope of ever walking again. They had heard of a traveling preacher that was capable of placing his hands on you, and thru some powerful praying, convince God to heal your infirmity. I remember listening to them intently and having a wonderful feeling sweep over me. My grandparents did not know for sure that it could be done but felt it was worth a try. The minister was several counties over, neither of them drove a car (none of my grandparents had a vehicle), but they had children that did, so the plan was made to get our relative to the next service. As anticipated, the minister placed his hand on our relative and prayed with all his might, and then asked him to try and get up. He was unable to, so the minister assured him that it could happen within the next few days and to go home and pray continually. To my knowledge, he was never able to get up out of his wheelchair and walk. Grandma & Grandpa never brought it up again, but I knew they were disappointed. As for me, I’ll never forget that exquisite feeling of discovering that wonderful things outside our control are possible. I still believe that today, I have seen it so many times.
I hope you have enjoyed this missive, I certainly have enjoyed writing it.