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 days 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 Boys 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 whonot unlike Jimmy
Stewart in Its a Wonderful Lifewanted 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
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
routedeer, rabbit, turkey, raccoon, coyote, possum, armadillo, and all
sort of game birds.
In todays 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 politicians 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
havent done this near often enough.
At any rate, in this weeks 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. Lathams and Mrs.
Stills 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 dont ever
see men reading, so they dont 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 dont see men read. Please
say yes! We really need . . . Thank you for your help.
Mrs. Lathams & Mrs. Stills Second Grade
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 questionsoftentimes better than those
offered from adults. I provided a choice of two books which seemed to
excite the class: either Herman Henrys Dog or Worms for
Breakfast, childrens 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 boys 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 childs 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
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, whomany years ago in his
first teaching jobwas 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 themeven 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 cant help but wonder: What came in the mail today?
(Hank) Segars is the editor of a number of books to include Black
Confederates (Pelican Publishing Co.) and James Townsend
Trowbridges 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.