I was fortunate growing up.
I had a black-and-white television that only received three television stations, KODE, KOAM, and KYTV in Springfield. Two of the stations, KYTV and KOAM if I recall were NBC stations, KODE was CBS and if you wanted to see ABC programming you had to stay up until 10:30 p.m. when shows like "The Fugitive" and "Combat" would come on. We didn't have an ABC station until KUHI-TV (now KSNF) came on the air sometime around 1966.
I don't remember watching much television. In summer, it was baseball in the morning, lunch, baseball in the afternoon, dinner, then walk or ride bicycles to the Midway ballfield for the night time games, the ones that were actually organized.
During other seasons, it was football or basketball after school until you went home, ate dinner, did homework (never very much, as I recall) and then spent time reading and writing.
I was lucky enough to always have books and newspapers around the house. My parents, Bill and Joann Turner, subscribed to the Neosho Daily News (and still do after more than 40 years), subscribed to The Joplin Globe (they left it for a while, but have subscribed to it again for several years). My dad spent time as an over-the-road truck driver and he would bring me copies of newspapers from the towns he went through, with my favorites being the Tulsa World, The Daily Oklahoman, and the Kansas City Star, probably in that order.
My mom subscribed to the Reader's Digest abridged classics series, where I was introduced to such works as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "The Prisoner of Zenda," and "Pride and Prejudice," all of which I read and reread.
I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: In Newtonia during the 1960s, the best time of the summer for me was the Wednesday morning when Billy and Lee Ann Johnson would drive the Bookmobile into town. They were scheduled to park in front of Ted Arnall's Barber Shop at 11 a.m., but I would always go there at 10:30 a.m. and usually they would arrive early and I would be the first one to get to look at the treasures the bookmobile held.
During my elementary school years, I checked out many kinds of books, though most of them were baseball fiction by Joe Archibald, John Tunis, John Carson, and Wilfred McCormick, and sports biographies. I remember reading about Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Red Schoendienst, Jackie Jensen, and reading and rereading a book called "Mighty Men of Baseball," in which the author sought the greatest baseball team of all time and searched through the decades, finding Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bill Dickey, Pie Traynor, Honus Wagner, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Babe Ruth, if memory serves me correctly.
I always checked out 10 books. I would take my collection to Gum's Store, which was next door to the barber shop, go into the store, buy a bottle of Doctor Pepper, then sit on the concrete steps and begin reading the first one as I drank the pop. I usually had the books finished by the end of the second or third day.
When I was a teenager, I discovered a used book shop just off the square in Neosho, where the books were ridiculously cheap and I began collecting them. I read every Perry Mason or Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner. I went through all of the Sackett adventures by western writer Louis L'Amour, Mark Twain, Dickens, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, anything I could get my hands on.
And I still read the newspaper every day. I not only read the Globe and the Daily, but every afternoon, I would give Alan Oxendine 15 cents for a copy of the Joplin News-Herald. And I read The Grit (and sold it for two or three years) and the Sporting News every week.
Reading was always an important part of my life.
I thought back about those days as I read Dr. Leonard Kupersmith's thoughtful column in the Sunday Joplin Globe. Kupersmith, the headmaster at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, stressed the importance of reading. "The solution for the summer blahs for school kids is as thoughtful summer reading routine," he wrote. "As activities in the summer go, none is better than a guided reading program."
I couldn't agree more with Dr. Kupersmith. And I know there are some parents who already follow that credo and realize how important reading is to their children.
Unfortunately, the people who most could benefit from Dr. Kupersmith's message are the people who will never see it. Four decades ago, the newspaper was an integral part of nearly everyone's life. Today, it is an afterthought for some, a neverthought (if there isn't such a word, there should be) for others.
Reading a newspaper has always been considered a pathway to adult thinking in this country, but nowadays, starting with television and now with video games, constant sports camps, and uses of the Internet for everything except reading, children never pick up the hobby. It's not just newspapers, of course, it's all reading.
And we didn't catch it early enough. Their parents don't read either, and many do not understand the value of reading.
I have some wonderful students, who are well read, and who go through book after book and website after website thirsting for knowledge. I have others who never use the computer for anything remotely connected to reading, unless it is a homework assignment, and even then it is accompanied by much grumbling and growling.
Many young people read, but many others will never get into the habit, no matter how hard we push it in school.
I found Dr. Kupersmith's column extremely thought-provoking. If the Globe had been good enough to have it on its website, I would provide a link to it here. It's a shame the people who most need to read the column, will most likely never see it....and that more and more young people will not realize the joys they are missing.