March 22, 2021
By Arthur H. Gunther III
At the end of daily instruction, some of our elementary school teachers used to read from classic books and stories, perhaps to decompress us after the hectic day, maybe even sedate us for the school bus driver. The effect on many was not only to soothe but to open the imaginary door to people, places and travel.
Most if us like to be read to, and that starts with mom or dad and then the teacher. It is like having the purring cat on your lap, your feet in slippers, warm fire nearby. Tucked in, you close your eyes or stare out the window and hold on as you go wherever the story goes, wherever the characters go.
I remember “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that way, even recalling that I deeply inhaled L. Frank Baum’s words while seated in the sixth desk back, left side of classroom, first floor, southeast side of the South Main Street School in Spring Valley, N.Y. Miss Helen Rouy was the third-grade teacher and reader.
Each day until the book was finished, she would read us a chapter or two, and there wasn’t a noise in the classroom, not even the antsy shuffling you would expect from young people toward the end of a school day.
Now, when the movie is played on TV, and we see Judy Garland and others in this classic, it is Miss Rouy’s words that I hear. Warm memory that, and thank you, teach.
There were other books and stories that hit the mark in their own way, some not so specific as the plot line in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” There you would really let the mind wander, using your own frame of reference. For example, take a story about children playing in a field, maybe near an empty cottage. When the teacher read such a piece, we could imagine the fields we played in after school, old homes no longer lived in. There were many of those in my countrified youth. For others, urban street scenes and city sights might be the reference.
The important thing was the connection, and the words read to you so well that they had you draw colors, things, people, emotion, places, conversation in your mind.
It was a veritable daydream factory, there to be recalled even decades later.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier one.