With education taking a beating, and those who still read books almost becoming an extinct species (over 25% of adult Americans have not read a single book in the past year 1.),  I thought I would share a few memories from my early years. And specifically as related to the impact reading has made in my life.

I was never much for school after about 4th grade. To be honest, I found it boring. Now we lived in the South quadrant of Parkchester, in the Bronx, NYC.  I guess that’s why St. Helena’s was our parish. Church and grade school all in one compound. If you didn’t grow up Catholic I don’t think any description I or anyone else could give would be adequate. In my early years it was mostly nuns who taught at or school. Often the nuns seemed brutal dictators, and other times compassionate saints. Yard sticks were still common in those days, but slowly fading away.

As time passed there were more and more lay teachers. There are several I remember and even some I’ve seen on Facebook. One in particular who I’m glad we had now was Miss Swain. I’m thinking 4th or 5th grade. The thing that makes me thankful was that, she, somehow, through this thick skull of mine made reading exciting, which later became a very important and exciting part of my life.

It was during her class that each day, I’m really not sure when, or how long it was, that she would read a portion from a book to us. And the one I remember most was Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. There have been several movies made of it, but none compared to the times sitting in Miss Swain’s class with my eyes half closed thinking about that golden ticket, and what a wondrous and amazing place this chocolate factories was. You see for me this was the time when I learned how a good story could draw you in and make you feel like you are a part of it. Like you are actually standing where the characters are, and in fact it’s as if I became a character in the story right there with the others.

We had many teachers throughout our time there at St. Helena’s, and honestly I had a bigger crush on Miss Foley, but without Miss Swain and her reading to us, my life would have been completely different. (Of course St. Catherine’s math phonograph records and her antics up and down the rows of desks was beyond compare. But that was math, and this is nouns, (if you will). Without Miss Swain I would have never known the feeling of standing on the deck of the Pequad as Capt. Ahab reached out and grabbed St. Elmo’s Fire, or the fear and uneasiness of waiting to see what would happen to us, when the police find out Johnny stabbed the soch, who was holding Ponyboy under the water, or seeing the police shoot Dally whose gun wasn’t even loaded. I mean, I was there, at all those events, and you probably were too. I was sitting in that balcony with Scout as Atticus defended Tom Robinson, and I was there when Ralph breaks down over over the death of “Piggy”. Like some sorta cross between Little Big Man and Forest Gump, I was always there at the crucial moments in history.

Thank you, Miss Swain and St. Helena’s and authors everywhere who shaped my life and love for stories fictitious and real, and for memories that I carry around in my mind of good times and bad times, good friends and former enemies. So next time you are reminiscing about those good old days, stop for a moment, listen for that distant wind, and meet me at the flagpole to talk over those events that shaped our lives and made us friends forever regardless how often we talk or see each other. The original, BFF’s if you will, old school style! From about 4th grade until our early twenties, the people that I knew, hung with, fought with, embarrassed my self in front of will always be a part of me, just like the characters in those novels will be.


R.P. Filos

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