By DAN WHITTLE
I was age four when farm neighbor A.J. Neel began bringing library books to me after he noticed I seemed to have a gift for words.
"Little Danny Whittle, words will take you around the world one day," the well-read farmer prophesied one cold winter morning as we motored in his faded-orange Dodge truck to our farm town's little library.
I often thought of A.J. Neel's prophecy during my lifelong (now semi-retired) newspaper career that included covering the genocide war in Bosnia and the plight of thousands of orphans in Romania.
Due to A.J. Neel's dramatic impact on my young life, there's not a day goes by that I don't reflect back on him and his neighborly-loving family.
My first dictionary back then, was not a dictionary, but a used Sears-Roebuck catalog that had multiple purposes for farm families, first as a source to order anything from houses to clothes to radios, and then, when a new Sears came in the mail, the old catalog took the place of rough corncobs out in the family's two-holer shack-out-back at the end of the path.
That's the scene where I began associating "words" with "pictures" from those old catalogs.
My farm family didn't "cotton" to all my reading of books and catalogs. But thankfully, they didn't discourage A.J. Neel from bringing me library books before I began "first grade" at our little farm community's school which we kids branded with the slogan: "Our school of advanced thinking and higher ciphering."
But it was in "first grade" that I learned how powerful words can be, even to the point of getting a little school boy in trouble.
I got a paddling for teaching other first graders Billy Kirkley and Kirky Durbin how to spell a woman's "brassiere," which dated back to my word and picture association days out of those old Sears-Roebuck catalogs.
It was during a recent "feature story assignment" for the historic Cannon Courier newspaper that I conjured up all these boyhood experiences about words that, unbeknownst to me, was preparing me for a world-traveled newspaper career.
That's part of the impact that Mary Reed had on me, when I interviewed her at her family's Russell's Market in rural Readyville, where she is a one-woman force promoting the reading of books to her neighbors, especially children.
How unique is Mary and her library?
Although the store's ham sandwiches slathered with mustard and 'maters are popular, it's words by the thousands that fly off the shelves out of her little library tucked away in a back corner of the store.
Mary's Library is "free" for her neighbors to take a book, exchange a book or take one home permanently.
"There's never a charge," Mary declared.
Due to the positive impact of "words" in my writing career, I'm proposing a new slogan I wish would go "national" in the wake of all the senseless killings and murders in our land: "BUY MORE BOOKS, NOT MORE GUNS."