A Reason to Become a Nation of Readers

Published July 11, 2016

Over the Fourth of July, I asked myself, “What makes our country great?” It is the grandnieces and grandnephews who love to read or who pretend to read showing great insight and imagination already. Being a great country is also a teacher like Jamie McCoy, a coach like Ralph Cummins and even my own mother. Miss McCoy taught me to love literature and to treasure the written word. She read aloud to my class excerpts from books—yes, read aloud to high schoolers. She read ever so poetically in that beautiful voice. Coach Ralph Cummins loved poetry, literature and history. In my senior high school English class, Coach, hands behind his back, paced to the rhythm of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner reciting that lengthy poem from memory. There was total silence of awe in that classroom when Coach finished the recitation. My very own mother taught me Latin. I loved Latin and I loved my mother as a teacher. She read aloud in Latin a selection about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon to me, and to my fellow classmates, as well. Reading for one’s own pleasure and hearing a story read aloud are the most wonderful testaments to a free society.

When I was back in my hometown of Clintwood, Virginia, for the Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, July 2, the Dickenson County Historical Museum provided some other local authors and me tents from which to sell our books. It was obvious how much effort had gone into the museum. On display, in particular, were letters that Coach Ralph Cummins had written to his “Darling Mother” and a letter he had written to his Uncle Jim. What makes those letters so special is not only how eloquently and how poignantly he writes, but also the history he imparts. You see, the letters were written on the canvas that came from wrecked gliders, one of which he navigated into Germany in World War II. His daughter, Catherine, told me that he actually navigated two gliders into Germany. I must get the rest of the story.

Years ago, my brother, Dale and best buddy, Jim Dotson, both football players at Clintwood High School, accompanied Coach Cummins on the search for the exact spot where he landed one glider. Brother Dale said it was amazing how clearly Coach remembered the momentous events. Brother Dale admired Coach even more for the poise, intelligence and courage he had as a young man faced with war.

As an aside, my brother, Kyle played his senior year with Coach Cummins. Brother Thurston was fortunate enough to have worked with the distinguished coach who was always the teacher, scholar and inspiration. It is said that Coach Cummins had a library that equaled or even surpassed that of the town’s library.

This Fourth of July made me think of Linda Sue Park, author of a children’s book, A Single Shard. She was asked, “Can a children’s book save the world?” She answered, “No, but a child who reads the book can!”

I think this is so true and a reason to become a Nation of Readers!