March 2007 - Column:
  

I’m a reader, not a golfer…
(Maybe I need a duffer literacy program?)

John Shivers John Shiver's
Tidbits

I can hear Dave O’Connor now. When he reads this, he’s sure to pick up his phone to assure me that indeed he can teach me to successfully chase those little white golf eggs he pushes over at the pro shop.

T’ain’t so, Dave. Nothing against you. It was so bad the last time I took golf lessons, the instructor was ready to pay me to quit when I got discouraged enough to voluntarily surrender my clubs. I trip over short nap carpet and I’m not coordinated enough to complete a round of golf in anything less than a four-day weekend.

But if I weren’t so golf-challenged, I’d have to take part in the Pickens County Certified Literate Community Tournament coming up on our Big Canoe course April 11. To say it’s for a great cause is an understatement.

I am a life-long reader. Some of my earliest memories involve books… or the back of the toothpaste tube… the milk carton… even the instructions for appliances when I was really desperate. Because reading comes as naturally to me as breathing, I have to stop myself sometimes and remember that not everyone enjoys reading. Worse yet, not everyone can read. This is mind-boggling to me, but true nonetheless.

I shouldn’t have a problem believing it. When I taught school back in the dark ages of the last century, I had student teachers about to graduate from college whose reading skills were abysmal. I shuddered when I envisioned them teaching others.

Perhaps my most vivid hands-on, up close and personal experience with adult illiteracy came back in the late 1980s in Dalton, where I was Development Officer for the regional library system. Some of you have heard me tell this story and I think I’ve actually shared it in this space before. But it bears repeating.

I was summoned to the main circulation desk one day to speak with a rather distraught young woman who had come to the library to learn to read. Right then. That day. Before the sun went down. She had walked the three or four mile distance from her home.

I took her into my office and explained to her that while we didn’t offer literacy instruction at the library, I could and would put her in contact with the people who could teach her to read.

This wasn’t good enough. She had come to the library to learn to read and she didn’t intend to return to her single-parent household of three children without that skill. Nothing I could say would change her mind.

Then the story came out: She had gone to the supermarket the evening before to spend the last of her money on a birthday meal for her oldest child. He loved fried chicken and she didn’t have enough money to buy poultry from the meat case, so she settled instead for large can of chicken, complete with an appetizing photo of the fried bird on the can’s blue label.

Only when she got home, she had Crisco shortening and her children had nothing for supper.

That’s when the reality of her situation hit home with her and she vowed, she told me through tearful sobs, that she would not let another day go by without learning to read.

She shared with me that she’d grown up in a home with seven siblings and parents who had little education and saw no need for anything better. She had dropped out of school at age 16, but her grades had been in the cellar long before that, as she had to repeat most grades at least once and then just barely squeaked by.

I called the local literacy folks who agreed to see her immediately and begin brief, one-on-one instruction with her that very day. This way her determination wouldn’t suffer. I sent her across town in a taxi and paid the driver to take her back home when she was ready.

I’m sorry to say in the crunch of annual budget preparation, I forgot about her.

A few weeks later I was summoned back to the front desk, where the clerk led me, with a silencing finger to her lips, to an area where we could observe the children’s reading area.

There sat my determined reader, reading aloud from simple books to her three children who were seated around her on the floor, their faces lit with rapt attention.

It is a scene I’ve never forgotten. I realized that in that moment, one small link in the chain of illiteracy had been broken for the mother, but more importantly for her three children as well.

Crisco may have lost another sale, but society gained a more productive member, with the potential for additional dividends down the road. Three of them, at least.

If you can play golf, I encourage you to participate in this tournament. You already know the difference between shortening and fresh chicken, but when you play in this tournament, you can help grease the skids for local literacy instructors to make a difference in someone’s life who may have problems telling one from the other.


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