One of the many joys of working here at the “Double O” usually happens a few times during each school year, when Editor Fred Woods will pop his head into my office and say those wonderful words:
“You wanna go read at Darden with us tomorrow?”
For years now, Fred and other members of the Opelika Kiwanis Club have joined with Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental and the indomitable Cathy Gafford to read books and give out copies to the children at the Darden Head Start Program.
Gafford always warms the kids up when we get there by telling them why all these strange looking adults are barely fitting in the kids’ tiny chairs.
She lets them come to us to pick out their book, the one we’ll put their name in and that they can then call their very own from then on. For some, sadly, it might be the first book they own, or one of the only ones in their home.
Then, we’ll split into groups and read the books with the kids, asking them to help us along as we read.
Young though these tykes may be, they have a wisdom and humor about them that is beyond their years.
Cases in point:
Case I: (Cliff is reading “Hattie and the Fox” one morning at Darden Head Start with three kids)
Cliff: What noise does a goose make?
Little girl: Mooooooooooo.
Cliff: Uh huh. And where did you meet this mooing goose?
Little girl: My grandmama got one.
(Well, that showed me, didn’t it?)
Case II: (Cliff notices an interesting name inside of a kid’s (Michael Jackson) book as he’s attempting to read with him)
Cliff: Michael, do you know that there’s a famous singer who was named Michael Jackson?
Michael: Yeah, I’m named after him. He was the King of Thrillers!
Cliff: … Yes. Yes, he was, son.
I probably goof around with the kids more than I should, but Ms. Cathy is kind enough to tolerate my insanity, as she has for decades now.
She then calls the kids back together and asks them if they know why we’ve all come there to be with them today.
Many say “to bring us books,” and Gafford will tell them “Well, that’s true, too.”
However, she’ll eventually find her central thesis, the one that may or may not have this columnist’s eyes mist up from time to time.
“We’re here because we love you,” Gafford always says. “We love each and every one of you, and that’s why we’re here to read to you, to give you books, and to have fun with you. It’s because we love all of you.”
She always sells the line because she genuinely means it, and always has. It’s rare to come into contact with truly kind, no ulterior motives people, but Cathy Gafford is such a person.
She’s just here to show love to kids, one copy of “Hats for Sale,” “Hattie and the Fox,” or “Who Sank the Boat?” at a time.
Thank goodness for that.