senior scribes

Along Life’s Way
The Gift Not Given  
By Lois E. Wilson
I was married and living in Greenville, Ohio, when my parents purchased their “dream home” in Dayton View. It was an older house in an integrated neighborhood. A bonus—it was a short distance from the central city.
That was when we first met Ernie. He never lived in the house they purchased, but he definitely came with it. He did all the outside work; and after my Mother was older and widowed, Ernie drove her wherever she needed to go. Her car was a used 1950’s Cadillac and, yes, it was aqua and had fins. You might say it was a case of “driving Miss Daisy.”
My Mother was an accomplished woman. She taught first grade many years. Her students excelled in reading, math, and manuscript writing. (That’s what they called printing.) A phonics advocate, she developed two books: “Reading and Arithmetic Readiness” and “Sound, Write, Read, Spell” for Hayes School Publishing Company. The University of Dayton placed student teachers with her.
We all loved Ernie and looked forward to seeing him when we visited. Our two sons liked talking with him and would follow him around when he worked in the yard. They hoped he’d give them some chances to help.
After Mother’s death in 1991, I wanted Ernie to have her Cadillac. He had always loved driving it, and he was the perfect person to treasure it. He and I went to the DMV to transfer the car title. Ernie signed his name, but during the transaction I discovered that he could not read—at least not enough to function well.
I had questions. Over the years, were there no situations that occurred from which Mother could have recognized the extent of Ernie’s lack of reading ability? Did Ernie successfully hide it from her? Because of embarrassment, many who cannot read try to conceal it from others. Ernie had asked Mother to help him manage his money so he could save some. Was that all she knew?
Recognizing the need, after we retired, my husband and I took a course in literacy tutoring. We volunteered for five years at Wayne Industries in Greenville and taught reading skills to adult clients. It was a challenging and rewarding experience.
I’m not sure if Ernie, at his advanced age, would have been receptive to help from my Mother, or anyone else, to improve his reading skills. I often wonder. I do know the best gift we could have given him wasn’t the Cadillac—it was literacy.

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