I grew up in a family that loved to read. We received the Atlanta Constitution in the morning and the Daily Times in the afternoon. For decades my parents maintained subscriptions to Time, Reader's Digest, National Geographic, Life and Look Magazines.
When I was 6, they dug deep into their pockets to buy a set of World Book encyclopedias. When my daughter started school I dug equally deep to buy a home computer. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
One of my earliest memories is of listening to my father read bedtime stories. That nightly ritual went on for years. He had a soothing, expressive voice that would bring "Black Beauty," "Ivanhoe" and "A Little Princess" to life.
For my fourth birthday, I was given a subscription to "Best in Children's Books," sort of the elementary school version of "Reader's Digest Condensed Books." Each month I'd receive a couple of volumes in the mail. Mail is a big deal when you're 4. Over several years, I accumulated dozens of these anthologies. My mother gave them away when I was in high school. By then, I was far too cool to let my disappointment show.
About a decade ago, I was at one of Brenau University's used book sales. I spotted a weathered copy of one of the "Best in Children's Books" and picked it up. I felt like I'd stepped back in time when I saw the laboriously printed "Teressa Hamrick" on the first page.
Today, when I look at my daughters, I can see bits of my parents. One girl has my mother's flawless Irish complexion. The other has my father's laugh. And they both love to read.
When I became a mother, I vowed to remember the word "no." I would not give in to every plea for the latest video game or Barbie jeep or yet another doll. At the same time, I vowed to never say no to books. One of the resources that has helped me keep that promise is Hall Book Exchange.
It was started 25 years ago by Mary and Mac McKenzie. They parlayed Mary's enormous collection of romance novels into a used bookstore where customers can trade in their own volumes for credit toward other books. The idea was as simple as it was brilliant. There hasn't been a moment since 1983 that I've been without one of their credits in my wallet.
These credits ensured that our daughter, Rachel, read not only "The Wizard of Oz" but all of the other L. Frank Baum books as well.
They were a lifesaver as our Molly worked her way to a bachelor's degree in English.
I'm partial to their books on cassette and CD. I've listened to a lot of books I would never find time to read.
Mary and Mac are gone now but their torch is ably carried by Myra Meade, who bought the shop seven years ago.
To celebrate the shop's silver anniversary, she's holding a Readathon. For 24 hours on Oct. 17-18, there will be nonstop reading going on, with every penny of the proceeds going to the Gainesville/Hall County Alliance for Literacy. Readers are asked to collect pledges at the rate of $10 for each hour of reading. There will be local authors reading from their works and autographing books. They are donating their proceeds as well.
There will be snacks and coffee, children's bedtime stories and a morning stretch. Our girls will be reading children's stories. Rachel will be reading one of her favorites, Carmen Agra Deedy's "Martina the Beautiful Cockroach," in full cockroach costume. And you moms out there know how difficult it is to come up with a cockroach costume.
We've all seen the bumper sticker: "If you can read this, thank a teacher." I do thank them with all my heart. Here's a shout out to Marie Bennett, Louise Adams and Louise Davis, wherever you dear ladies are.
I thank James and Lee Hamrick for giving me an appreciation of the written word and Hall Book Exchange for helping me pass that appreciation on to the next generation. To show my gratitude, I'll be at Hall Book Exchange on Oct. 17 reading from (what else?) that "Best in Children's Book" from long ago.
Originally published in the Gainesville Times, Oct.2, 2008