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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - April/May 2006
The American South: Real Men Do Read


By Hank Segars

            On a rather warm and blustery afternoon I slowly began my daily walk up the driveway to claim treasures that had been dutifully placed in my hunter green mailbox. Since early childhood, I have been one of those strange folk who enjoyed receiving mail and this eccentricity probably comes from having grown up in a small town where the arrival of various letters, postcards, and advertisements stamped with U. S. postage can generate the day’s most exciting event. 

In particular, I enjoyed receiving various coins and stamps from exotic ports-of-call  which, in actuality, were little more than overpriced trinkets sent  to gullible country kids like me on approval from “up Nawth.” The best deliveries, however, were the monthly copies of Boy’s Life, a Scouting magazine, and a Walt Disney comic provided from a paid subscription by Uncle Glenn and Aunt Anne as a Christmas present. There were, of course, times where there was no mail earmarked for me, a small town dreamer who—not unlike Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”—wanted to visit those faraway places featured in popular magazines like Look, Life, and the National Geographic. Furthermore, I would long to visit the picturesque locales seen in those Tarzan and Roy Rogers movies playing at our local “picture show,” the little Pex Theatre on the square of Eatonton, Georgia.  During that innocent time, I always knew that Hope would, indeed, spring eternal . . . primarily because the postman arrives tomorrow.

Today, I still enjoy receiving mail and packages and am fortunate to have a wonderfully talkative postmistress who is diligent in her work.  “Miss Shelby,” a delightful and learned conversationalist, arrives in her dusty, banged-up Jeep Cherokee around 3:00 every afternoon, like clockwork, to deliver the goods. While pulled over on the side of the road at a rural mailbox, she can regale customers with entertaining tales of faraway journeys and her unending searches for fine furniture and expensive antiques.

      One day, Shelby, a resident of nearby Lake Oconee, admitted to me that the pay from the postal job fueled a passion for furniture buying. But I also knew that she, an outdoors person, enjoyed the job because her eyes would always light up with vivid descriptions of wildlife seen on the mail route—deer, rabbit, turkey, raccoon, coyote, possum, armadillo, and all sort of game birds.

In today’s batch of bills and junk mail, there was a gem: the Morgan County Citizen, a weekly newspaper that, unlike most big city dailies, was continually filled with pages of good news and commonplace photos that entertain simple folk like me. Any serious or dramatic writing could be found on the editorial pages in the  “letters to the editor.” For example, when our newly elected mayor began to reveal he was an egotist on power trips and one who wanted to create controversy, loyal readers contributed an avalanche of erudite missives to point out this politician’s many shortcomings. In addition, these constituents were not shy in offering face-to-face opinion when encountering “his honor” on the street. The freedom to call the hand of misguided politicians surely began as a rural, southern thing; but, we haven’t done this near often enough.

At any rate, in this week’s edition of the Citizen I was taken aback by the contents of a letter that appeared on Page 5A with the bold caption of “Second Graders Seek Male Readers as Role Models.”  It was printed as follows:

Dear Men Who Love to Read:

We are students in Mrs. Latham’s and Mrs. Still’s second grade
reading class. We are doing a democratic learning project because
we see a problem in our school. We think boys who struggle with
reading may not think reading is important. Many boys don’t ever
see men reading, so they don’t see how important it is for boys
to learn to read.

Our class wants you to help by reading to students in our school.
We would like to make a video of you reading a book and
talking about why reading is important to you. You will be a
good influence on boys who don’t see men read. Please
say yes! We really need . . . Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Latham’s & Mrs. Still’s Second Grade Reading Classes

“Wow! This is sad,” I thought and immediately contacted Mrs. Still to arrange to read to the class. A few days later, upon arriving at my appointed time at the local elementary classroom, I found an older retired gentleman sitting in a high-back rocker reading to a class of lively boys and girls. Strangely, his reading was drawn from an adult historical novel. Nevertheless, the students seemed enthralled with the story line and were interrupting their white-haired reader with a series of pertinent questions. Later on, the teachers indicated to me that the response for readers had been really good as a number of men had signed on to participate. 

For me, the experience of reading to second graders was both surprising and exhilarating; the students were engaged and asked extremely intelligent questions—oftentimes better than those offered from adults. I provided a choice of two books which seemed to excite the class: either Herman Henry’s Dog or Worms for Breakfast, children’s books provided by my wife, an elementary teacher at another area school. The class selected almost unanimously Worms for Breakfast, a story about a young boy’s fishing trip with his Grandpa. Since these children live in an agricultural county, most had previously fished. Consequently, there were raised hands and loud pronouncements about bait (red wigglers, minnows, artificial lures), catches (bream, bass, crappie, catfish), and travels (to farm ponds, large lakes, and the state of Florida). This brief reading of a child’s adventure was greatly enhanced by the ensuing conversation about life experiences of the students and by the excitement that can be generated when children are allowed to express themselves about their experiences. Sounds like adults.

As I drove away from the elementary school, I began to think about how, in the not-so-distant past, students in our region have had to deal with a lack of financial resources for educational purposes. I began to think about the challenges of my friend, Holmes Cunningham, a retired principal and teacher, who—many years ago in his first teaching job—was taught reading from daily newspapers because his poor, country school district had little money for textbooks. And, ironically, while more funds are now earmarked for education, our culture still seems to downplay the importance of reading, especially for males.

Literacy issues might be helped if recreational reading was encouraged. Reading can become enjoyable if students have some leeway to pick topics that are of the greatest interest to them—even if the selections are comic books or entertaining fluff. Eventually, readers will begin to move to more serious writings where their heartfelt questions can be answered, where knowledge is acquired, and where usable skills are developed. And perhaps of greater importance, the enjoyment of reading can lead to an enhanced quality of life.

                 As I turn into the driveway from my trip to the elementary school, I can’t help but wonder: “What came in the mail today?”

_____________________________________________________________________     

J. H. (Hank) Segars is the editor of a number of books to include Black Confederates (Pelican Publishing Co.) and James Townsend Trowbridge’s The South (forthcoming, Mercer University Press). For additional book titles about the American South, please visit www.southernlionbooks.com.  Essay copyright: 2006 by the author.


Return to April/May 2006 Index page