A wise man once said “Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building.”
I am not that wise man; I have enough trouble trying to shepherd my own children in their studies.
Because my kids are products of a divorced household, my time with them is limited and the lure of video games, television and iPods at their other house has proven, more often than not, stronger than dad’s admonitions.
In fairness to them, had I spent the majority of my time as a youngster in a house essentially filled with children my own age and stocked with more games and toys than a small retail department store chain, it’s likely that reading and studying would have been well down on my list of priorities, as well.
Heck, growing up my home featured neither an army of co-conspirators nor a legion of amusements and I still avoided studying whenever possible, usually hightailing it out the door for the closest fishing pond or ball field.
My one saving grace was that I loved to read. Pretty much whatever I could find I would at least pick up and attempt to peruse.
This proved particularly useful when, as a youth, I would find myself banished to my room for various transgressions. (As I got older, my mother finally tired of wearing out her arm wielding the “spanking spoon” and decided exile a more suitable punishment.)
When I was around the age of 9 my parents received a collection of Collier’s encyclopedia yearbooks, years 1955 through 1973. They’d probably received them from friends who had relocated and didn’t want to lug the large, heavy tomes. My guess is that we must have gotten them in 1974, judging from the date of the last issue.
These were set up in a small bookshelf in my room, which proved convenient during my expulsion.
If you’re not familiar with Collier’s encyclopedia yearbooks, they would come out around the beginning of each year and detail events and personalities of significance from the previous year. They touched on not just national politics, but world events, religion, sports and culture.
I initially began reading each issue for their baseball highlights, which gave me my first real taste of such superstars as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente, nearly all of whom had either retired, were in the twilight of their careers, or, in Clemente’s case, had died, by the time I got around to reading about them.
Still, I loved the game, and even then recognized its timeless quality, so I enjoyed perusing highlights from each year, even if they’d taken place a decade or more earlier.
In addition, the earlier editions included passages marking the passing of some of baseball’s original legends, such as Connie Mack, Cy Young, Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, helping me forge a connection to the game’s early days.
Collier’s grouped its topics together, so it wasn’t long before I was reading about hockey, football, basketball and stock car racing from earlier years, as well.
I learned about Bill Russell’s accomplishments not only with the Boston Celtics, but with the US Olympic Team and at the University of San Francisco. I saw photos of Gordie Howe skating in on opposing goalies, with no one, including the goaltenders, wearing helmets or even masks. And back then it seemed as if at least one noted race car driver a year, at minimum, was killed on the track. A tough way to make a living, it seemed to me.
Eventually, having read all the sports copy from 1955 (with Johnny Podres leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to their first World Series title) to 1973 (the Oakland Athletics overcoming owner Charlie Finley’s machinations to win their second of what would be three straight titles), I moved on to other topics.
I can still recall reading, though not always comprehending, such topics as the Suez Crisis, the capture of Francis Gary Powers and Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging incident at the United Nations, the erection of the Berlin Wall, the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann, the death of popes Pius XII and John XXIII, the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, the shootings at Kent State, and a picture of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president with Jackie Kennedy standing by his side.
It was, in retrospect, a wonderful education in US and world affairs, and gave me a solid grounding, at least for someone my age, of the world around me.
The role my parents played in instilling a love a learning remains paramount, but I can’t underestimate the significance that those 19 volumes played in shaping my understanding of the world, and in developing my love of history, world affairs and, of course, sports.
I have to wonder if children today find such enjoyment or derive such enrichment from, say, surfing the web. Sadly, it would seem unlikely.