TREASURES


READER’S DIGEST AUGUST 1990 – LARGE TYPE EDITION

A PRISONER’S TALE
Condensed from “Chained Eagle”
Everett Alvarez, Jr.
and Anthony S. Pitch
               
I had only a moment to think of something to say. It was 1971, and I had been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven long years since my Navy A-4-Skyhawk fighter-bomber was shot down-nightmare years of torture, putrid food and the aching loneliness of frequent solitary confinement in the infamous prison we had named the Hanoi Hilton.
To combat the monotony, my fellow prisoners had formed a Toastmasters Club. On this particular day I had been given just 30 seconds to prepare a five-minute speech on any personal experience in my life.
Instinctively, my mind whirled back to my family. The adversities we’d faced had shaped my character and given me backbone. My maternal grandmother had married at 13 in Mexico and come to the United States as a railroad man’s wife, shunting from one location to another and bedding down in boxcars or tumbledown shacks. My parents had had to drop out of school when they were still children and earn their living. From them I learned about grit, determination and resolve, qualities that enabled me to survive. More important, I learned about the pure, unquestioning love between parent and child that would surround me forever like a suit of armor.
How could I express all of that? How could I describe for these men the golden treasures given me decades ago by parents so poor? Suddenly I remembered one tiny moment of my childhood, and I knew what I was going to say.
 
GOLDEN TREASURES
By Sharon Stevens
 

Someone brought in a, shall we say, “vintage” Reader’s Digest from August 1990. Of course it’s not that old, but that’s not the point. The memory itself goes back so much farther than that. At first what caught my eye happened to be “Aunt Virginia’s Green Swimsuit.” I remember this, and remember it well…the Readers’ Digest, the swimsuit AND the story in the Reader’s Digest about the swimsuit. (You wouldn’t think of the this digest to have a swimsuit edition.) My aunt wore just such a piece of clothing when we traveled to East Texas for family celebrations at the lake. And my grandmother gave us a gift subscription to the Digest every year for Christmas. So maybe this is why this specific article resonated with me.

Funny how something will stick with you, and even funnier is what will trigger the senses and bring the memory back to life.

In this particular issue I didn’t remember the Prisoner of War story though. There was mention of a candy bar, and you would have thought that I would have picked up on that first thing for two reasons. One is that I love candy bars, and two is that chocolate brings up special thoughts that connect to my very soul, and not in the Valentine way you would think. In August 1990 it must have been my frame of mind at the time, could be that I didn’t want or didn’t need a reminder of a candy bar, or maybe war, or maybe even Prisoner of Wars. Who knows what directed my sight to the swimsuit. Hey, it could have been that war wasn’t on the preceding or the succeeding page of something that interested me. If it had of been next to “Word Power” I might have noticed as it included some mighty powerful definitions that just might come in handy someday. This edition had “Look-A-likes” such as effect and affect, and evanescent and effervescent to name just a couple.

Nope that wasn’t it. And I don’t know what it was.

So many times we become discouraged because our stories don’t seem to catch the right amount of interest. We wonder why someone would choose this over that, laughter over horror, or blood over heart. None of us can choose where our thoughts may lead in the reader’s mind, so we shouldn’t go chasing after it. It’s all right for our work to be passed over.

I am the world’s worst to take it personally. On the outside I know better, but on the inside my heart is crushed. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I still haven’t come up with the secret formula for someone to be swept away with the very words that will inspire and encourage them for eons of eternity. I just don’t have it in me, never have and never will.

But then again, just maybe someone will happen across a thought, a phrase, a moment and decide to read the rest of the story. Maybe they will carry this within for when the dark winds blow through their soul. Or could be they need a reminder of happy days, of fishes nibbling at their toes (now where did that come from?) Oh, right, the swimsuit.

I’ll just have to keep plugging away hoping simple words will transform the words on the page, on the computer, and just jump out and grab whoever happens to walk by. I hope they will carry my thoughts home with them to save for, not just a rainy day, but a good day too.

Maybe then my story will be considered the “Golden Treasure,” just as I wrote them to be.

Just a reminder, Mary Bagham who played “Scout” in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will be here at WTAMU with the invitation of the Social Justice department on Wednesday February 13, 2013. Also “Anatomy of Grey” will be performed at the Sybil Harrington Fine Arts Theatre at WTAMU. Amarillo Little Theatre will be performing “25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee” this weekend and Gary Garner will be honored at the Faculty Grand Recital on Friday. Whew, so many stories!


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BANNED


BANNED

by Sharon Stevens

While going through some boxes at the bookstore I came across an old Uncle Remus book published in 1903. Never in my life for whatever reason have I read any of these stories and I found such treasures within. Books have never been banned in our house. My parents, especially my mom let us read whatever we chose within reason. They never discriminated or guided us in our reading habits, so it is foreign to me to think that there could be a culture that would destroy any kind of creative thinking.

Getting into the book I didn’t think I would be able to muddle through only because the writing was so fragmented with the talk of the times and diction of the south. But I found once I got into the rhythm of the words, like Shakespeare, the life of the story came together. Brer’ Rabbitt, Mr. Cricket, Wiley Wolf, and Brother Fox shared through the pages parables that are centuries old.

There is a chapter in the first part where Uncle Remus is sitting at the dinner table encouraging the young master to eat per the grandmother’s order. The grandmother was concerned that the mother was only serving the child simple fair, and that he needed ham, potatoes, biscuits and gravy to grow big and strong. Uncle Remus said the grandmother had written a message of love on the dishes and the little boy exclaimed that he couldn’t see any words there. Remus replied.

….“But I weren’t callin’ out no letters; I wuz callin’ out de words what yo’ granmammy writ wid de dishes.’

Uncle Remus wanted to share that the grandmother held her grandchild close to her heart and showed so much love that she would risk the displeasure and outright anger of her son and daughter-in-law and be brave enough to enlist the help of the wise, and elderly, old plantation slave to do it.

Uncle Remus, the story, and therefore the character have been banned for years along with such tales as “Huckleberry Finn”, and “Treasure Island”. But on this the 30th anniversary of banned books includes, “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling, the “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins”, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor, “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, “A Light In the Attic” by Shel Silverstein and “Bridge To Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson.

Most are challenged or censored because of demonstrating racism, insensitivity, offensive language, violence, occult and satanic themes, but these are also pulled off the library shelves because families don’t feel comfortable with the message they are sending their children. And don’t forget this also affects the school and public libraries as well as the bookstores such as Hastings or Barnes and Nobles and the publishing houses as well.

One of the books banned this year and in years past is “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee for racism and offensive language. This year the Social Justice department at WTAMU will be hosting the woman who played, “Scout” in the movie. The professors and students will be discussing discrimination and how it pertains to our area and the here and now. They are working with the Varsity Theatre here in Canyon about showing the film.

I will never second guess a parent and their wisdom in raising their own children. I am just proud that I was given the chance to read anything and everything at an early age. Hopefully my husband and I have passed that on to our children and they will pass this on as well.

As writers we never know when someone will find our words offensive, insensitive, or political. At any given moment our thoughts might be seen as anti-ethnic and anti-family no matter how color blind or family oriented it may seem. On the other hand we can’t censor our own story or characters frightened that we may offend across the board. This causes us to lose the spirit, heart and passion ingrained deep in the soul of the letters formed together to make words. Jodi Thomas and DeWanna Pace taught me in writing class to be always true to what we believe and to trust the story we are writing. And just think, even though it was written for adult market, “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James would have never seen the light of day if censors had challenged the book in the very beginning.

So on this anniversary of the week of Banned Books look through the list and cherish the Freedom we have to celebrate the joy of reading, and the Freedom to choose on our own.

I leave you with this beautiful passage from the book of Uncle Remus:

TOLD BY UNCLE REMUS

New stories of the Old Plantation

by Joel Chandler Harris 1903

“The little boy was sitting on Uncle Remus’s knee, and he turned suddenly and looked into the weather-beaten face that had harbored so many smiles. The child seemed to be searching for something in that venerable countenance, and he must have found it, for he allowed his head to fall against the old shoulder and held it there. The movement was as familiar to Uncle Remus as the walls of his cabin, for among all the children he had known well, not one had failed to lay his head where that of the little boy now rested.”

Sharon Stevens