Turning The Page

At the parish where I attend Mass, we have a bonafide Irishman leading the flock. The Rev. Jeremiah F. McSweeney has been in West Virginia for decades, but his thick Irish brogue and stories of his early life in Ireland continue to amuse and humble us.

He garners giggles from the congregation at times with “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” while preaching from the pulpit. He often quotes a book or poem or story he’s read recently. Today, St. Patrick’s Day, will surely prompt a few more of those expressions from the humble Irishman.

I worry about kids today not having that special kind of connection with old sayings and good books. I believe the art of communication has been reduced to abbreviated text messages, cutesy emails and Facebook posts that appear to me to be in code. I have received some of these messages from young people seeking information from time to time and I just shake my head.

One young person asked “cld u tell me sumthin?” This is very difficult to read from someone who was raised by parents who shot us dirty looks until we used correct grammar. Spelling tests were not optional; they were nearly sacred. Reading also was urged from an early age, beginning with our own prayer books. We had bookshelves loaded with reading books and magazines.

Of course there was no Internet back then to supply information at the touch of a button. We had to actually learn how to use a decimal system to find books in the public and school libraries. Our teachers sent us home for the summer with required reading and book reports were due within a week of our return to classes in the fall. Do kids still do that?

Everyone read something in our house as my mother made sure we had books on our bedside tables, not TV sets. One of my most treasured Christmas presents was a complete set of Nancy Drew mystery books. I think my mom also realized that if we were busy with our noses stuck in books, we weren’t making so much noise around the house or fighting over the last Twinkie in the snack drawer.

Rainy summer days were not lost on us as we could always find adventure between the pages of a good book. Even the board games we played required reading of some kind.

Sadly, this week we learned of the demise of the Encyclopaedia Britannica print edition, which could be found in every library in the world at one time. These were the books of knowledge, compiled by experts on everything. Hundreds of thousands of school kids wrote term papers based on information found in these volumes of information.

I realize time moves on and technology changes daily. It’s just hard sometimes to let go of these old friends. Maybe the next birthday gift you buy for a child could include a book. Think about tucking one next to the chocolate bunny in the Easter basket this year. You might be surprised what a good book can do toward a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at ziegler@theintelligencer.net.