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The first book I ever read was “Mary Poppins.” It was in the summer between first and second grade. I bought the old copy at a book fair in school at the end of the year in June. I needed a bit of help reading the book but somehow made my way through it.

Like many children, I had those “Golden Story Books” for a long time. They not only helped inspire a culture of reading, but they also served as building blocks for cities and forts for my tiny soldiers.

The second book I read was one about the U.S. presidents. I think Truman was the last one mentioned in that book though Eisenhower was just leaving the White House. I remember having a library card from the first grade on and even going to the place to check out books since it was only a few blocks from my home.

By the third grade, I had settled on history books as my prime subject. I would also read ahead in my readers, English books, and even geography book. Those were the days that the Smith Family took the year off and drove around the country with the parents introducing their boy and girl to America.

In 5th grade I was in the hospital for almost four weeks when I had my appendix removed and ended up with pneumonia. I began reading the Classic Illustrated comic books that were very abridged versions of classic novels (Cliff Notes for kids). Once I got back to school, I started reading the books themselves.

In high school we had summer reading lists, and had to turn in book reports. Each summer there were a half dozen books to read. One of the books was A.J. Cronyn’s “Keys of the Kingdom.” Cronyn was a Scottish physician and also wrote "The Citadel" which helped inspire the creation of the public health service. The book was a novel about the life of a Scottish priest in China. In it there were very mild depictions of sex and children being born out of wedlock. I still reread it every decade or so.

I went to an all-boys very small Catholic High School. Other books on the summer list were “Soul on Ice,” by Eldridge Cleaver, “The Once and Future King,” by T H White, Chaucer’s “Canterbury’s Tales,” and Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Would any of these books be allowed today? I don’t know. If I can remember the titles and substance almost 60 years later, that is a strong indication of what literature instills in children.

During high school I read nearly all of George Orwell’s works…some as part of my Englich classes curriculum. We read most of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. We had a passing relationship with Dickens, Thackery, Defoe, and even Fielding. I had an amazing education that I would probably not have had in 2023 in Martin County or much of Florida.

What is then a well-rounded educated individual today? We can’t bemoan the failure of our schools to give students a love of reading and the classics if we take the classics away.

The Franciscans, who were my teachers, were not exactly liberal communists. We said multiple prayers a day. We went to mass. I found some of my clerical and lay teachers to be inspirations. Something that probably does not happen anymore. 

We are saving our children from all we once considered our heritage. Another example of how politics has become so destructive to our society.

About Friends & Neighbors

Founded By Tom Campenni

"Friends & Neighbors is designed to give you the information that is happening within our County. My goal is to inspire you to get involved and make a change to make Martin County the best it can be. There is lot's to do!" – Tom

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