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Up the reading mountain

With the sun shining through the dusty windows of my elementary school, the end of the school year always felt glorious. As the years marched on and I have seen many last days of school and I have always felt a sense of peace and happiness to start the summer.

As I have written in previous columns, we have been preparing for Crawford’s summer. The final event before it officially began was the academic awards at his school.

As I would never miss a school event, I sat there among a sea of parents. All were there to support their children as well as the school. I socialized with the parents around me until Mr. Aycock started the program. I knew that with all of Crawford’s challenges he would likely not receive an academic award. However, my heart held out hope because I didn’t want my child to become frustrated from not getting an award and stop trying to learn.

I had prepared him for the likelihood he would not get an award and he really seemed fine with it. I think it was probably me that was more upset with it.

However, he did receive an award that day. He won 5th place for the year in his collection of Box Tops. He got a big green ribbon and a certificate. He was happy as a pig in slop.

After the event was over and I was on my way back to work, I started thinking. Thinking about how important it is to read. Reading was and is something I take for granted. We all do. It is something I just did. It just happened, like your fingernails growing. I don’t even remember learning to read. Was it a process or did I have an ah-ha moment? It was a naturally easy thing for me, I guess. But with Crawford, reading is a mountain, a mountain that he has had trouble climbing. First little problems with some slow learning in 3- and 4-year kindergarten. He conquered that little hurdle but the hurdles have become increasingly more difficult and his grades began to slip this year.

I have never seen a little boy try so hard. He wants to climb that mountain. I told him all he needed to do was his best. He has his typical little boy silliness but for the most part he tries his hardest to get up the mountain for me and for his teachers at school.

Now that he has a therapist to help him with his dyslexia, he even tries harder. His reading has improved but he still isn’t at the level the other kids in his grade are. The dyslexia has a profound effect on his reading but more important is that the reading affects other subjects. So now he is stalled on the mountain.

The last nine weeks of his first grade year his reading issue lowered his spelling and grammar. He has trouble reading the directions or questions o a worksheet or test. In the end his favorite subject started to suffer as well. His math grade declined some as well. He had to read to do graphs and time. He had to read to do a reading problem. He worked and worked but he still was not up the mountain. His classmates were much further up.

The great thing is that this has not discouraged him. That makes me feel a whole lot better. Attitude is part of the battle. In fact his short-term goal at school was to get past his Accelerated Reading goal. Which he did ... slowly ... right before ... and I mean right before the deadline. He inched a little more up the mountain.

His long-term goal is to be a good reader. I want that for him so badly. If I could buy it off eBay for him I would but he has to do it for himself. I have given him the resources and help he needs to do just that.

So over the summer in between the pool and fun activities we will be working — reading and working to keep his mind moving forward, still trying to climb that mountain. At some point in school, he will be caught up and can soar to the top of the mountain like the rest of his classmates. I feel like he is so smart and knows the way up that mountain. Together with me, his school, teachers, dyslexic therapist and God he will eventually conquer that mountain all by himself.

Caroline Laster is an employee of The Bolivar Commercial. She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Summer memories and a wish

Last week I got knee deep into getting Crawford all set up with activities for the summer. Last week I wrote about all the choices he had. It made me think about what I did as an eight-year-old during the summer.

I remember going on a few trips. We went twice to Disney World and once to Missouri but most of the time we just ventured to Memphis for a long weekend.

I am sure that we didn’t have a lot of money so lavish vacations weren’t on the agenda very often. I’m not saying that we were deprived of anything because I always thought life was great. It never occurred to me that our vacations were simpler than others. It probably had a little to do with the fact that I am a homebody at heart, so being at home for the summer would have suited me just fine.

The vacations to Disney World were always fabulous. We did all the rides and shows. We ate good food with characters and shopped until we couldn’t anymore.

The Missouri trip was planned to visit friends that we met at Delta State. I do remember playing in a creek that had the clearest water. It just amazed me. We got to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield. How cool! I was very interested in this home because “Little House on the Prairie” was my favorite show and I had just begun to read all her books. If my memory serves, I think we even bought a car in Missouri, which I thought was just weird. Who buys a car on vacation?

Our long weekend Memphis trips were fun too. We stayed at The Admiral Benbo Inn and we got to swim in the pool. That was like winning the jackpot. One day we went to the zoo and another day we went to Libertyland. The Log Ride was my favorite and you couldn’t pay me enough money to get on the Zippin’ Pippin. Oh those were great days and in between all of these outings we went to a mall and shopped, shopped, shopped!

But really my summers were spent at home or at my grandmother’s. We played in my tree house, sang songs while up there and practiced plays that we made up. I had a huge tractor inner tube that we called our Bouncy. Every kid in the neighborhood loved to play on it.

There were times we played kickball until dark. We would be just filthy and I am sure we smelled like little puppy dogs when we all got home. That was nothing a good old bath wouldn’t fix. We loved to play in the ditch down the street and when it rained we made mud pies wherever we could find the perfect mud.

It seemed like the air in the neighborhood smelled of cut grass and barbecues mixed with smell of popsicles and ice cream. I didn’t have a care in the world and everything was happy.

Summertime also meant I could stay with my grandparents. Tara and I weren’t allowed to stay at the same time because we bickered too much. So when it was my turn I had them all to myself. It felt like having a security blanket around me the whole time.

I would spend time with Mimi in the house. I loved watching her cook and getting to sample the menu. She would watch the soap opera and that has always been up my ally. She would draw with me, play with the cats with me and make me clothes from scratch. We would walk around the yard and if her garden had started to put out, then we would harvest some goodies from it. She was sweet, loving, warm and fuzzy. Just what every kid likes to have.

When I wanted a change, I spent time “over to the store” with Big Daddy. His life was his family and his store. At the store I could watch the television, play with the cats in the storeroom, play pinball or just sit on the stool behind the counter and people watch while Big Daddy worked. It was never a dull moment. From farmers and their workers to kids that lived down the road, there was always a good conversation going on. It was the perfect place to hang out because if you got hungry or thirsty your hearts desire could find what it wanted. I loved chocolate bars, cookies and penny candy. I couldn’t live without a Coke or Orange Crush.

Those were great summers with nothing more to worry about except where the mosquito repellent was. It is a permanent memory and a wish that Crawford could enjoy such simple summers.

Caroline Laster is an employee of The Bolivar Commercial. She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more...

Summer memories and a wish

Last week I got knee deep into getting Crawford all set up with activities for the summer. Last week I wrote about all the choices he had. It made me think about what I did as an eight-year-old during the summer.

I remember going on a few trips. We went twice to Disney World and once to Missouri but most of the time we just ventured to Memphis for a long weekend.

I am sure that we didn’t have a lot of money so lavish vacations weren’t on the agenda very often. I’m not saying that we were deprived of anything because I always thought life was great. It never occurred to me that our vacations were simpler than others. It probably had a little to do with the fact that I am a homebody at heart, so being at home for the summer would have suited me just fine.

The vacations to Disney World were always fabulous. We did all the rides and shows. We ate good food with characters and shopped until we couldn’t anymore.

The Missouri trip was planned to visit friends that we met at Delta State. I do remember playing in a creek that had the clearest water. It just amazed me. We got to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield. How cool! I was very interested in this home because “Little House on the Prairie” was my favorite show and I had just begun to read all her books. If my memory serves, I think we even bought a car in Missouri, which I thought was just weird. Who buys a car on vacation?

Our long weekend Memphis trips were fun too. We stayed at The Admiral Benbo Inn and we got to swim in the pool. That was like winning the jackpot. One day we went to the zoo and another day we went to Libertyland. The Log Ride was my favorite and you couldn’t pay me enough money to get on the Zippin’ Pippin. Oh those were great days and in between all of these outings we went to a mall and shopped, shopped, shopped!

But really my summers were spent at home or at my grandmother’s. We played in my tree house, sang songs while up there and practiced plays that we made up. I had a huge tractor inner tube that we called our Bouncy. Every kid in the neighborhood loved to play on it.

There were times we played kickball until dark. We would be just filthy and I am sure we smelled like little puppy dogs when we all got home. That was nothing a good old bath wouldn’t fix. We loved to play in the ditch down the street and when it rained we made mud pies wherever we could find the perfect mud.

It seemed like the air in the neighborhood smelled of cut grass and barbecues mixed with smell of popsicles and ice cream. I didn’t have a care in the world and everything was happy.

Summertime also meant I could stay with my grandparents. Tara and I weren’t allowed to stay at the same time because we bickered too much. So when it was my turn I had them all to myself. It felt like having a security blanket around me the whole time.

I would spend time with Mimi in the house. I loved watching her cook and getting to sample the menu. She would watch the soap opera and that has always been up my ally. She would draw with me, play with the cats with me and make me clothes from scratch. We would walk around the yard and if her garden had started to put out, then we would harvest some goodies from it. She was sweet, loving, warm and fuzzy. Just what every kid likes to have.

When I wanted a change, I spent time “over to the store” with Big Daddy. His life was his family and his store. At the store I could watch the television, play with the cats in the storeroom, play pinball or just sit on the stool behind the counter and people watch while Big Daddy worked. It was never a dull moment. From farmers and their workers to kids that lived down the road, there was always a good conversation going on. It was the perfect place to hang out because if you got hungry or thirsty your hearts desire could find what it wanted. I loved chocolate bars, cookies and penny candy. I couldn’t live without a Coke or Orange Crush.

Those were great summers with nothing more to worry about except where the mosquito repellent was. It is a permanent memory and a wish that Crawford could enjoy such simple summers.

Caroline Laster is an employee of The Bolivar Commercial. She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Everybody picks on the linemen

Had a call one day from an old high school football teammate, and in the course of the conversation, he made a quote that indirectly came from his wife, something about "dumb lineman." He didn't mean like climbing a light pole.

Pat and I played together on a pretty good Leland High team, and had a lot of fun growing up. After he hung up, I spent an hour with our old (there's that word again!) high school yearbook, and there was the same quote next to both our names: "Everybody picks on the linemen!" For the life of me, I can't recall where that quote came from, unless it was one of the coaches, but I do remember that we got a lot of mileage out of it.

It seemed to be a rule when we watched the game films on Monday that the only plays we saw were when we had missed a block or a tackle. "Neill, you let that Number 62 whip you again, boy!" At least, that was the rule for linemen. But seems like the replays of backs were: "See, now that's the way to run over a tackler, Dave!" Or, "Way to turn that corner, V-Shape!" Of course, the guy on the ground in that paused frame was the guard who had pulled and blocked the opposing defensive end, so V-Shape could get around him! Yet if that were noted, it would be as, "Neill, you can't just lay there, son! You got to get up and make another block downfield!" So what if there was a 230-pound end laying on you?

I went on to play at Ole Miss when the Rebels were Number One, back in the glory years. I was too small for a college lineman, even in those days when we were winning National Championships with guards weighing less than 200 pounds, who played both offense and defense back then. I played just over a year, and stayed hurt: separated shoulder, broken thumb, ruptured artery, ruptured hip joint that finally ended my playing days. Yet I was there, by gum, with a bunch of All-American linemen who pounded me into the ground during scrimmages.

But you know what people ask when the subject comes up? Not, "When did you play?" but, "Who was the quarterback when you played?"

Not once has anyone asked, "You played at Ole Miss? Who was the left tackle when you were up there?"

Matter of fact, we did have an extraordinary left tackle whilst I was there. On the day of the first freshman-redshirt scrimmage, this big blonde redshirt called all freshman linemen into the locker room, and seated us on the floor around a table, upon which was a helmet. "Watch this, boys," the tackle said. Then he poised with one elbow over the helmet: "Ready? Crash!!"

He brought his elbow down onto the helmet from a foot over it, and the headgear smashed into little bitty pieces. "Remember that, when you got to block me today!" the blonde tackle growled, and stalked out. He didn't get blocked much that day, nor the next three years he played, making All-American. The story was, he had polio as a child, and his elbow had been replaced with a steel elbow. I can't vouch for that story, but his demonstration was excellent!

So, what Pat and I learned in high school pretty well proved true in college and thereafter. Yet some of the finest folks I know are guards, tackles, and centers. A center that went on to become a doctor saved my life by finally diagnosing the Babesiosis anemia that accompanied my Lyme Disease, and curing it.

Oh, well, it was a team effort, and usually the quarterbacks don't go out seeking the glory, it's the media people who focus on them. If God had gifted Pat and me with accurate rifle arms and bodies unlike fireplugs, we'd have been quarterbacks, or split ends. But He didn't, and we blocked for the guys who ran and passed, congratulating them when they scored, or made a good play. In retrospect, I never played with a quarterback who wasn't a pretty quiet nice guy, off the field. And that was well before the days of modern “Hot Dogs.” If one of us had done a dance or beaten our chests to the crowds back then, we'd have “run the stadium” every afternoon for the next week! 

Hometown Teams! Seems like we were truly molded into real teams back then, both in high school and college.

And I never thought of it before now, but that prepared us well for the period right after college, when many of us were pressed into service for our country, fighting a real shooting war. A squad, or platoon, or landing party, in my case, was a team. We fought for each other, that we'd all come back safely, hopefully on the winning team.

This is part of the Smithsonian Institution's Hometown Teams Exhibit programming, funded by the MS Humanities Council. The views expressed are solely the Author's, and do not represent those of the MHC, NEH, DSU, or Smithsonian Institution. Friends may visit the exhibit until Nov. 11, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To schedule tours or for more information, contact Archivist Emily Jones by calling 662-846-4781, or by e-mailing to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Is Santa in danger?

 

My house is adorned with its Christmas attire and it is warm and cozy feeling but throughout the world there is violence and tragedy that plaque the peacefulness of the season. Crawford apparently has been listening to David and I talk about the news and even has been paying attention to the network news.

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Don’t forget the reason

 

We’re nearing Christmas time, a holiday where the stores are packed every weekend. Everyone rushes franticly to get that gift they’ve been looking for. Some people are worried that each child gets the right amount of gifts — spending the same amount of money. Others are worried that they don’t forget anybody in the gift giving.

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