Whittle: Spelling bra got him spanked

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Words are powerful.

Brassiere is one of those words.

I rocked teacher, Billie Margaret Greer, by knowing how to spell brassiere (pronounced 'bra' today) in first grade at Canalou (Mo.) School of advanced thinking and higher ciphering.

Momma Whittle rocked my behind when she got me home from school, where teacher enlightened Mother about my spelling prowess.

"How come you know how to spell brassiere?" Momma inquired as she used a keen willow tree switch across my scrawny little buttocks.

Mother made it painfully clear, there are certain words that little boys were not supposed to know about, much less know how to spell.

But, there was a simple explanation about how I knew to spell that biggo long word, b-r-a-s-s-i-e-r-e, before I got to first grade.

You see, favorite first cousin Robert Terry 'Good Boy' Reed and I partially learned to read by gazing at the pictures and word associations while looking in the Sears-Roebuck catalogues required for activities in our "shack out back" and/or the " two-holer moon room."

Occasionally cousin 'Good Boy' and I would gaze longingly at what we called girly pictures on the catalogue pages advertising female underwear.

Faithful present-day newspaper reader (Woodbury Councilwoman) Faye Northcutt Knox, of all things arts and acting at the mighty Arts Center of Cannon County, encouraged this column by asking on the internet how it was that I knew how to spell girls underwear at such a young age.

It was farm neighbor A.J. Neel who recognized early that I had a keen interest in words because I was trying to read and write long before I climbed on that big yellow school bus to enter first grade.

Although a simple farmer, A.J. was a learned man, who shared his love for books with cousin 'Good Boy' and me. It was A.J. who suggested we could learn words by associating them with pictures in the Sears-Roebuck catalogues.

That was part of the reason it was a big deal on the farm, when new catalogues would arrive quarterly each year. When the new catalogue arrived that meant we could take the out-of-date quarterly catalogue for use in our out-door toilet.

For unlearned, university-educated folks who have never experienced life with outdoor toilets, you can understand why we farm folks appreciated the smooth pages of a Sears-Roebuck catalogue over dreaded rough-edged corn cobs.

Whewee and mercy!!!

It was A.J. Neel's early-life foundation of encouraging me to learn words and develop the ability to read books that served as the foundation of enjoying a lifelong professional writing career that has taken me, even paid me, to go around the globe multiple times in life.

Mystical, mystifying words eventually rescued me out of the back-breaking hard work in the cotton fields of youth.

Words can start wars or prevent wars between nations. Words can trigger lifelong romance with your significant other. Words can build self-confidence and careers. Ugly words can destroy friendships and family relationships.

That's among the reasons I was honored, humbled actually, when asked to become an executive board member for the highly-effective "Read to Succeed" program that operates with trained volunteer tutors to confidentially assist neighbors with low-reading skills.

As we speak, the "Read to Succeed" has tutors available, at no charge, at communities throughout Rutherford County. And confidentiality is strictly enforced.

I recall an uncle of my youth who was embarrassed by the fact he had to quit school by the time he was in second grade. He and the entire family celebrated when he finally learned to read as an adult due to a program carried on KFVS-TV out of Cape Girardeau, Mo.

My personal introduction to the vitally-important "Read to Succeed" program came when I was asked to be a contestant in the non-profit program's annual winter "Spelling Bee" competition at Patterson Park Community Center Theater that was packed with volunteers and supporters.

It was a fun-filled night, but I was up against 15 of the most learned folks from throughout our community, including from our fine university that manufactures educated folks by the thousands.

Eventually, the competition came down to Don Clayton from Ingram Books and yours truly.

It was the word "mezzanine" that caused me to come in second place. Clayton can be sure that in the rematch, I'll know to put two "zz's" in mezzanine this time around.

Let the positive words flow throughout our awesome communities!!!

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