Thursday, September 25, 2008


While waiting for Fr. Tom Ward to open a session on Centering Prayer this week, I was re-introduced to one of our group that meets at Sewanee Conference Center on Tuesday evenings. Joanne Atwood, Executive Director of The PEN Foundation in Winchester, Tennessee, began chatting with me about her work with this organization. Joanne has retired to Monteagle, Tennessee, just six miles up the road from Sewanee, with her husband, a former football coach at the University of Florida. Joanne became very animated when she explained the focus of PEN Foundation, which provides a tutoring and mentoring program to children in Franklin County. The tutoring aspect of PEN has been in place nine years, and during the past year 400 children in Franklin County received tutoring assistance. Joanne said that many of these school children are tutored by college students attending the University of the South here at Sewanee, and a large percentage of the children in the program have needed help developing their reading skills.

As we discussed books and reading, both of us became “lathered up” about children who missed out on the joy of reading. Joanne touts PEN as the answer to this problem. In addition to the actual tutoring, the mentoring aspect of the program provides models for children to emulate “so that they can become successful, productive, fulfilled citizens,” Joanne says. “When adults become interested in children and walk the walk with them, it really makes a difference in their lives.”

Following the Centering Prayer session, I read an article about Joanne in “The Herald Chronicle” (Winchester newspaper) in which she says, “My Dad was a great outdoorsman. When I was six or seven years of age, he told me that we should always leave the woods better than we found them (an old Girl Scout precept also!). Franklin County Schools are our woods, and it is the duty of all of us to leave them better than we found them.”

The conversation brought to mind my mother’s belief in and love of books and the teaching of reading skills…I know her “tutoring and mentoring” had a deep and lasting impact on my family. Here is an excerpt about Mother from the introduction to my book, THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL, now out of print:

“A few years ago, in the silence of too much winter, my mother passed away…A friend and I were once discussing our mothers, and I asked her if she remembered the scene in PETER PAN in which Tinker Bell is dying and Peter asks for those in the world who believe in fairies to clap their hands. ‘Well,’ I told my friend, ‘my mother would have been the first to clap her hands.’ She was fantasy itself; she saw sprites dancing in open fires, drew pictures of gnomes painting the woodlands and created pastels of quaint cliff dwellings where other-world spirits lived.

“My mother loved words and books. When I was three years old, she would seat me, cross-legged in the middle of a small kitchen, and open for me giant editions of MOTHER GOOSE, A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSE, and MARIGOLD GARDEN, laughing at friends who often dropped in to proclaim that I was backward because I did not talk and only sat quietly, absorbing the book characters she knew I would remember for a lifetime. She read aloud the entire series of UNCLE WIGGLY IN THE CABBAGE PATCH, THE LITTLE COLONEL, RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY, GREEK LEGENDS, BLACK BEAUTY and GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES, even after all of the children in our family had learned to read.

“Every month for years, Mother would take one of the three children in our family to Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to choose two books for our nightly reading session. She was the first family member to open the books, touching the pictures with credulous delight. My mother began to fly in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her first umbrella to make her wonderful flights! For her, I wrote my first story at age six. I remember only that the tale concerned a small child who opened a door in a tree and found herself in a fantasy world similar to Alice’s Wonderland…

“When Mother was a teen-ager, she exemplified the phrase which actually accompanied my graduation picture in the high school annual: ‘Large, divine, and comfortable words.’ She loved the syllables and accents of words and would roll them out at inappropriate times as she did following a Baptist Church service when she filed out the door and shook the minister’s hand. ‘Dr. Gayer, that was really an EXCRUCIATING sermon,’ she remarked, thinking that she had expressed a highly complimentary description of his delivery. ‘Well, yes, Miss Greenlaw,’ he answered, ‘come to think of it, it probably was.’

“Back in the mid-1960’s, I wrote a poem about my father, published in AMERICAN WEAVE, a literary journal, and my mother showed the tiniest bit of jealousy that I hadn’t published something about and for her. I told her then that I would write a poem about her. I never did. But this book is for her (THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL: PROFILES OF MEMORABLE LOUISIANA WOMEN). Somehow, I think she’ll be able to read it, even without her glasses…”
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