My Dad once asked me, “Can you look at a word and not read it?”
I don’t recall what point Dad was trying to make, but it had to do with the magic of reading, learning, and the wonders of the human mind.
Dad dropped out of school when he was in the eighth grade. That’s when my Grandpa Riley lifted the entire family out of the hills of eastern Kentucky and moved them to southern Indiana.
Instead of going back to school, Dad went to work and continued working for the rest of his life. Thirty years later, he studied for the GED exam and received the equivalent of a high school diploma. We were all very proud of him.
Even though he lacked a formal education, Dad was a voracious reader. Newspapers, magazines, the Bible … Dad read almost anything he could get his hands on.
He also had a great memory. You would never want to play trivia games with Dad. Once he read something, he never forgot it.
I probably inherited my love of reading from my Dad.
Early in elementary school, I was introduced to the series of books about Dick and Jane. Probably the first book I ever read was “Fun with Dick and Jane.” Run, Jane, Run. Run, Dick, Run. Their little sister, Sally, would get into the action and their dog, Spot, could be counted on to do his share of running. It was a start.
Years later, I discovered that I could always be counted on to get into trouble during study hall. I would always get my homework finished, then I would talk with friends sitting around me. If we couldn’t talk, we would just make noises from one end of the room to the other. Boredom also brought about mischief.
I apologize to all of those hardworking study hall monitors, but that’s what teenage boys often do.
Then I discovered the library. Mrs. Hazel Baker was the librarian. She soon became one of my favorites.
She didn’t teach me. What she did was more important. She directed me.
She took that mischievous teenager and exposed him to the jungles of Africa. I read all the Tarzan books. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote books that took me directly from the hot, stuffy study hall in Germantown to the hot, humid treetops of Tarzan’s jungle.
Next, I became friends with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. I practically lived in the rooms at 221B Baker Street. The adventures and mysteries that evolved from the amazing brain of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could keep me up at night. I would sneak a flashlight into my room so I could figure out how Sherlock would outfox Moriarty and unravel the many mysteries Dr. Watson described in his memoirs.
Soon, I was able to combine reading for our high school English classes with reading for fun. Even though we had to memorize long passages, it was difficult seeing beyond “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to the adventures of sailing the south seas. Then Mrs. Baker introduced me to the Nordoff and Hall trilogy of the “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Those three books brought the adventures of the South Pacific alive.
When I immersed myself in those novels, the sounds of study hall were replaced with the sound of the wind blowing through the sails of Her Majesty’s Ship Bounty. The stability of my study hall chair was replaced with the rolling decks of the ship at sea. I could practically feel that there was water, water everywhere. It was magical.
Since those high school days of the late 1960s, I have loved reading. Always there are about two or three books on tables or shelves that I am in the process of reading. The written word can easily be converted into sights and sounds of adventure. Our front porch is often a comfortable refuge from reality. While reading, it becomes a portal into the mind and imagination of authors and novelists.
My mind can become a stage, or a movie set on which incredible dramas and adventure plays out while reading the written word of novelists. I loved it. I still do.
Starting in the mid-1950s with Dick and Jane, I’ve held an untold number of books in my hands while sharing in their adventures. Until we started going to church every week, I spent every Sunday morning sitting on our porch reading the Dayton Daily News from cover to cover. I wanted to know what was going on in the world.
I also never wanted to miss a moment of the adventures of Snuffy Smith, Blondie or the Peanuts gang.
Like many homes, we have a little library in our restroom. There, within easy reach of the throne, is a wicker basket filled with old copies of Reader’s Digest and a few books written specifically for restroom reading.
There is a book entitled, “Why You Say It – The Fascinating Stories Behind Words and Phrases.” We have a few trivia books – “The Great American Restroom Book; Volume-I,” and a fun book filled with facts about everything.
It is appropriately entitled, “A Ton of Crap.”
Whether I’m reading a hardcover book, paperback book, novel on Kindle, or my latest copy of the Wilmington News Journal, I am always reading something. It’s part of my life.
Thank you, Mrs. Hazel Baker.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.