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by Frank Shortt
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My Favorite Author When I Was a Child
The first school I attended was Grimsleyville Elementary, a two roomed school, in Buchanan
County, Virginia. Grades one to three were taught by Mrs. Lucy Wade in the ‘Little Room’. Grades fourth to seventh were taught by
Mrs. Murtis Wade, Lucy’s sister, in the ‘Big Room’. They had married the Wade brothers while on a census taking trip from Eastern
Heating in the classrooms consisted of a ‘Burnside’ heater which burned one up
on the one side and froze one to death on the other. There was no indoor plumbing. To obtain relief a student had to walk almost a
hundred yards to the outhouse which consisted of two holes cut in rough oak boards. This could be quite an ordeal in the winter.
Our drinking water came from a pump just outside the ‘Little Room’. In order to get a drink we had to pump the large, steel handle
up and down to make the water from the well start to flow. If we had no cup, we made a cup from the rough stock paper that we wrote
on, these disintegrated after about half a drink.
I was introduced to reading books by
my older siblings who read every book to me that they brought home as well as the textbooks. I could not wait to attend school and
be able to have books of my own to read. My dream was realized when I began school at Grimsleyville Elementary. Our large family could
simply not afford the luxury of having our own books.
Mrs. Lucy Wade would loan me
books when I was in first through third grade. Then I moved on to the ‘Big Room’ where we had a very small bookshelf in one corner
of the room. I probably devoured every dog-eared book there by the first year. My favorite author had not been established in elementary
school. This happened when I moved on to High School which consisted of eighth through twelfth grades at that time in the 1950’s.
Our school was called Garden High School. The football, basketball, and baseball teams
were called the Garden Green Dragons. Mr. B.T. Quillen was the principal, his wife serving as Home Economics teacher and
librarian. I learned to love Mrs. Quillen very early on in my entrance to Garden High School.
Each day, either in the morning hours or sometimes in the afternoon, we were afforded a ‘study hall period’. This meant going to the
library for an hour. I would be the first one there so I could grab the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, read it from cover to cover, and
finally, do the crossword puzzle. Mrs. Quillen observed my avid perusal of all things written and she also saw that I was an avid
crossword puzzle fan. She began saving me a paper so that I could pursue my hobby. This led to her coaching me to be the best speller
in the school. I won those honors two years, eighth and tenth grades, and even represented the school in a tri-state championship
coming out second. Mrs. Quillen encouraged me to resort to reading the dictionary when I had a spelling bee coming up.
Another thing that Mrs. Quillen did for me was to introduce me to different authors of the classics. Some I enjoyed, some I disliked.
Stevenson was hard reading for me as I was just a plain hillbilly and he wrote in the classic British style. Mark Twain was more to
my liking as he wrote in the dialect of the people I was more familiar with. Then I found an author who wrote in very easy-to-understand
phrases. He did not try to use long, indiscernible sentences. This author was Stephen W. Meader who authored almost 60 books for younger
audiences. I suppose that in eighth and ninth grades I devoured every book this author wrote. Mrs. Quillen always made sure that in
all the book orders she concocted there would be at least one Meader book included. Between the two of us, the Garden High School
library ended up with almost every book Meader wrote. Mrs. Quillen was truly a caring and knowledgeable instructor. Give a child something
he enjoys then learning becomes, not a chore, but an adventure.
I had to travel fourteen
miles one way to school on an old rickety bus. Each day I would make sure that I had reading material for this trip. I could devour
at least half a novel on the trip home. If I did not get to finish it that night, I would read the remainder on the return trip to
school next morning.
Meader’s books were part mystery, part adventure, part history and
drama, and were made exciting by his ability to keep the story moving by whetting one’s appetite for the next sentence. His use of
dialog moved the story and identified each character by what they had to say. His plots were simple and were only meant to entertain
a young person for a few hours. His goal was to introduce young people to all parts of the United States. For the most part he succeeded
in doing so. He wrote of pirates, race car drivers, jet pilots, explorers, young men questing for success, and any other subject that
would be of interest to young readers.
Today, Meader’s books are rather scarce and demand
high prices. Most of them did not survive because, believe it or not, they were read over and over by children who appreciated a good
story sans the foul language and graphic sexual acts. Some of his early titles run into the hundreds of dollars. Needless to say,
I have a rather extensive collection of Stephen W. Meader’s works. Do I still read them? You bet!