The treasure of books

Published 9:31 am Saturday, January 18, 2020

I’m grateful to have grown up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Too often, outsiders do not appreciate the richness and beauty of Appalachian people or of the massive hills that surround us. They tend to see the struggles that come with the rugged hills and count us as the “less fortunate.”

Many of our people suffer financial poverty, but it is mind-poverty that is the most destructive. If we look closely at our people who settled the land, we can find remarkable resourcefulness and determination.

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My mother had been dealt a bad hand of cards right from the beginning of her young adult years. Raising eight children alone brought more stress and fear than I can even imagine, even though I lived through it with her. We lived in abject poverty in a crumbling log cabin deep inside a hollow. My child-mind knew we were in trouble, but it is only as an adult that I can begin to appreciate her courage and tenacity.

She purchased, with $125, a crumbling log house in White Hollow, just a 20-minute walk to Granny’s house. We pulled water up from a well using a bucket and a rope. Our source of heat came from a coal stove in the main room where Mom would nail quilts over doorways to hold the heat in. We slept three or four to a bed for warmth. We experienced food insecurity long before it was a popular term in the social service arena.

In the midst of this darkness, I can honestly say my childhood was rich. My mother was determined her children’s lives would be better. She preached the doctrine of education and found multiple ways to show us that learning could be fun. Despite my hatred of school, she inspired me to seek knowledge and understanding.

A gift from the War on Poverty instigated by President Lyndon Johnson was the bookmobile. The bookmobile was a library on wheels that came to Arabia in Lawrence County, three miles from our house. Mom made certain, even if we had to walk, we visited the bookmobile weekly. I remember listening to Mom talk with the librarian about favorite books and how the librarian encouraged Mom to expand her understanding.

On bookmobile days, we spent the morning perusing the narrow shelves of our private library. The picture books and chapter books held treasures we longed to experience. We checked out 50 books at a time. Aside from books that fit our reading level, Mom would read novels and poetry to us. I can remember laying on the floor as she read and visualizing the scenes her words described. I became the heroine in each story and felt empowered by their examples.

Following my mother’s example, I began reading to my children as soon as they were born. Every nighttime routine ended with us lying in bed together reading a story.

At first, it was simple stories, but later we took turns reading to each other books such as Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables and The Chronicles of Narnia. We read and re-read the scene of Aslan, in silence, allowing himself to be humiliated by the Witch as she had his majestic mane shaved, all the while, her servants were assaulting him and jeering at him. With tears, we relived the moments Aslan was sacrificed on the Stone Table in order to save Edmund. These are rich memories for our family.

Mom revealed to me that reading is an ever-ready present, waiting to be unwrapped. Though I often read self-help non-fiction books, my favorites are biographies and historical fiction.

I don’t remember using anything but the literature text books in high school. Through the influence of my adult daughters I have begun reading classics such as Frankenstein, Pride and Prejudice, Brave New World, The Great Gatsby and Lord of the Flies. Within the past few weeks my daughters have encouraged me to begin readings from Russian authors. I fell in love with Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych. It is with trepidation that I am now reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I love the deep thinking such books cause in me.

My mother instilled the love of reading and learning deep within my soul. I, in turn, passed this gift on to my daughters, who likewise are inspiring me to read even more. My adventures in reading have taught me more productive ways to communicate with others and to better understand another’s point of view.

When was the last time you visited your local library? Don’t hesitate to ask a librarian for suggestions. You have many adventures waiting for you there.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at