A Cape ann literacy advocate describes how her self-taught father ignited her passion for books.
By Patricia Earle
I really don’t remember a time when I could not read. When I was three or four years old, my father would put me in his lap, point out simple words from the newspaper, spell the words and ask me to repeat the word. So, unconsciously, I learned to read. I think I was about three years old when I began to absorb my father’s love of words and their meaning. That is how I began to become a dedicated lover of books and words.
My father, Mike, did not read to me from children’s books, but from the classic books he loved—some a bit too advanced, perhaps. I started with Grimms Fairy Tales, progressed to Alice in Wonderland and on to Les Misérables…all by 10 years old. Mike managed to get one of the first set of comics from the Classic Comics series. The stories should have been a little too mature for my age, but I loved them.
Mike was literally a self-made man thanks to books and reading. And to understand why I advocate for literacy, one has to understand Mike’s story. Mike’s story began at the turn of the 20th century. Long story short, I was the child of a second marriage in the 1920's. As a young child, Mike was forced to leave school at the end of the fifth grade and go to work in a local factory. At this time in the early 20th century, there were no child labor laws. Young Mike was forced to work 10-hour days, every day except Sunday. There was a small lending library close by, and young Mike spent his Sunday afternoons reading and learning.
At 16 years old, Mike joined one of the first trade unions and quickly rose in the ranks to become an organizer. When he turned 20, he was traveling to other states and factories to help organize and work for better working conditions. But Mike never stopped reading and learning. When WWII broke out, Mike was well known and respected as a Labor and Management Relations specialist. He was quickly called to Washington to help American industries swiftly convert to a high-speed war machine.
After the war, Mike went into private practice and adapted his skills to help American industry become a mighty engine during peace time. But his expertise was called upon again to help another nation’s economy. By the early 1950s, Israel’s early industry and labor relations were almost non-existent. Golda Meir, then Secretary of Labor, reached out and asked Mike to come and help. In a few years, Israel’s Histadrut became a powerful force as well as the nation’s only trade union. It still remains a powerful presence in the country today.
During his travels and long flights, Mike discovered paperback books. He always carried at least four or five books with him on every trip—some educational, others for entertainment. Unfortunately, the years of smoking Camels caught up with him, and at the end of his life, Mike was confined to his easy chair, tethered to an oxygen tank. But he still could read, and when my daughters came to visit, he would read to them—most of the same books he had read to me. He continued to faithfully read the daily newspaper.
Today, my daughters and my granddaughter can be found with their “nose in a book” when they have leisure time, and I love that Mike helped instill that love of books in them. Learning to read and enjoying it is one of the most valuable and durable gifts one can give a child. One never knows where it will take you!