By Sharon Stevens
I had heard on the news about the anniversary of E.B. White’s, “Charlotte’s Web” and read the interview in Vice Magazine centered on Bryan Garner. In the article by Jesse Pearson, Garner mentioned how much he loved this book, but also touched on another book by White which is considered a bible for writers as “Strunk & White’s, Elements of Style.”
I dropped by the Canyon Public Library to pick up a copy of this beloved book, and visited with one of the librarians. She had several copies there of the “web” and asked me to choose which one. I chose the Collector’s Edition in larger print. The illustrations by Garth Williams were vivid and striking. After I got home I opened the book, and touched each of the pages in turn, reading every word and treasuring each picture. I came across the story of when Mrs. Arable went to visit Dr. Dorian on behalf of Fern. She was so worried about her daughter spending all her time in the cellar barn with Wilbur, the pig. The mother asked if the doctor understood how there could be any writing in a spider’s web.
“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“Charlotte’s Web” brought up the most wonderful memories for me, and my husband, and our trip to Chicago in 2011 to the Follett Corporation. We needed to update the software for our business, the Buffalo Bookstore. We encountered so many wonderful treasures along our journey there, with each person and the life they shared. Southwest Airlines was our chariot there and back, but, every life held an open book of their family and home and community. To me THIS was truly the MIRACLE!
My blog today takes the words that Charlotte wove into her web to try to save Wilbur’s life, and connect them to everything wondrous we encountered.
Bill Long, our Follett book salesman, picked us up at the airport and then took us to Maggiano’s for lunch. What a tremendous experience! Our server noticed the logo on Bill’s shirt, and mentioned she had gone to college, and bought the major bulk of her textbooks from a Follett bookstore. I explained that we were from Canyon Texas, and represented the off-campus, small local home-town business for our community, and that of our college, WTAMU.
I asked her what her degree was in and she told me that it was in business marketing, but that she had a family to support with small children, and this job worked better for her. I assured her she was using her degree every moment she served the public, and also for the business she represented. Her kindness and efficient attention to her customer’s needs meant so much to those of us she served, whether refilling our glasses or taking away our empty plates. We were travelers from miles away, petrified visiting the big city, on an adventure that would impact how WE would do future business. It only took a few moments for her to make us feel comfortable, to put us at ease. We found the same community we cherished at home, right then and there in Chicago! What a MIRACLE!
Bill then dropped us at our home for the week, the Hilton Garden Inn at Oakbrook Terrace at Drury Lane, next to the Drury Lane Theatre. Inside our room, I found in the drawer, a copy of the Bible placed there by the Gideon’s, but also of Conrad Hilton’s book, “Be My Guest” of his life building the Hilton hotel empire.
The whole time we were there I found an extension of all that community represented. Everyone worked hard to see our needs were met, but more than that, they greeted us with smiles, and truly cared that we stayed at their hotel and in their city. What a MIRACLE!
Follett took us on a tour of their facilities and we got a behind-the-scene view of how our books came from the warehouse to our store and the process to make it all possible. We even got to meet the people (so many wonderful people dedicated to their passion and vision) The whole week my husband attended the training along with people from several other small colleges across the country. Carolyn Recker was one of the instructors and to this day will answer questions and help us with any concerns. We even witnessed the way trashed boxes were being recycled with turning them into packing materials to protect our books until we opened our boxes here at home in our store.
On that day while my husband was attending his final course I scouted out “RIF, Reading is Fundamental” which is housed in the same building. My daughters participated in RIF when they were in grade school and we have always cherished READING. What a true MIRACLE!!
I met the most amazing kids involved with this endeavor, as Follett is where it all began. They shared with me where their program reaches, and showed me the posters and thank you board they received from all over the country. RIF goes to ALL the schools, but also impacts the prisons, and juvenile centers. They gave me books printed down through the years that had been compiled by the students themselves filled with poetry and stories from the heart. This reminded me of Mark Williams and his North Heights students right here in Amarillo, and the books they have written and published, and the apps they did for tourism for the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. The student-produced books “Voices of the Heights” and “Paintings on the Wall” are available for download on iBooks, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
The photo above is of the two kids who were so kind in sharing their passion and that of the Follett Corporation and Higher Education. I wished I remembered where I put their names. They gave me so much more than books, so much more than from the past of the kids they represented. They centered my heart and reminded me of the MIRACLES that will always be books.
They presented me with a pocket-sized copy of Dr. Suess and I gave them a Buffalo Bookstore bag filled with Amarillo magazines, Canyon News, Jodi Thomas books, and pamphlets from around the panhandle area. But the true treasure I gave to them was a copy of “Every Buffalo Will Shine” written by Dr. Marty Kuhlman representing the 100 year history and heritage of our college, WTAMU. I could think of no better gift to give them.
One of the most terrific experiences I treasured from this trip happened to connect closer to home. When we checked into our room I noticed the big sign advertising the performances for the Drury Theatre next to hotel. “Aida” was in the evenings, and ‘Charlotte’s Web” for the school kids. one morning after my husband left for his daily course I looked over at the theatre across the way. School buses had pulled up to the entrance and the kids were unloading. I knew what this meant! This was just like here at home when the school kids were going on a field trip to a show at the Varsity Theatre down the block, or over at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum for a tour, or in the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Theatre on campus at WTAMU for a student performance of a children’s play, or at Mary Moody Hall for a musical extravaganza. This was meant for me!
I walked right next door and asked if I could purchase a ticket for the live theatre performance. They looked at me quizzically, but didn’t question. Oh, to be in such a wondrous theatre!! Instantly I was immersed within. I listened to the kids and the parents surrounding me. After being involved in musicals and plays at Canyon schools for so many years and also our area being the home of the musical drama “TEXAS” I knew what it was to bring a performance to life. I witnessed the costumes, the sets, the music, the lights, the seats, the colors…I saw it all. I even heard the outbursts of a group of kids at the back of the theatre that must have been the special kids that had come to see the show. Since our daughter, Andrea Keller, teaches special kids I recognized what a wonderful treat this was. (She had also attended Follett’s Higher Education ISTE this past year. What an experience that was for her!)
I settled into my seat in this wonderful theatre and immersed myself from the first notes of the overture to the last bow of the cast and crew. My tears were near to the surface throughout it all but were spilled when I saw the image of the windmill projected on the backdrop of the farm. Oh, this so reminded me of home.
My blog probably sounds more like a travel log and a review for the hotels, and restaurants etc., but nothing could be any further from the truth. Think of how many books have been placed in our hands as well as our hearts that have come alive within our soul. Our imaginations have become tangible with inspiration and encouragement from books. I have no idea of the future of college textbooks or even books for that matter, but I know I will treasure the written word in any form until they are gone or I am transformed from this earth. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t have some sort of library in the Heavens above.
My 1890 Webster’s Dictionary gives the definition of a MIRACLE as, “to wonder, to marvel, to hold.” I consider each and every precious word as a true MIRACLE in itself. No one can convince me that it will ever be anything else.
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”