When I was beginning to learn about the world, my parents were my greatest asset. I enjoyed sitting on their laps, listening to their answers to the question (actually a command) ”tell me about when you were little”.
Father usually spoke of entrepreneurial ideas: long before school, even before learning to write, which I was indeed doing though somewhat clumsily before reaching kindergarten, I understood the concepts of adding and multiplication. Division and subtraction would come later. Mother on the other hand spoke of her brothers and mother and father. And, from her I was given the motivation to discover the arts. It was mother who encouraged me to go out into the garden and draw what I saw. I went through a lot of tablets before I could draw an iris. Coloring the pictures would come later with division and subtraction.
Father took me on great field trips to sites of industry; the cotton docks for the auctions, the dairies, the loading docks, farms and warehouses, retail stores. By age five I knew how the milk got to market and was able to draw a Holstein, a Guernsey and a Jersey and even to write about the differences in their milk supply, two producing a richer, creamier milk (the Guernsey and the Jersey), the Holstein producing greater quantity. Mother framed one of my cows and hung it in the living room. When my children came along twenty some years later, they enjoyed the same treatment; there was no refrigerator gallery at our house.
But it was my first and second grade teachers who gave me what may have been my most important lessons in how to learn. Neither of these teachers was big on the idea of memorization. Mrs. Kays taught us phonics. In other words after the very first day we were teaching ourselves. I had a little bit of a head start because with mother’s help I was already reading though not very well.
The following year Mrs. Douglass taught us and tested us on geography. Though I was the most accomplished reader in the class, I was also the only kid to flunk the exam. I was a very sad child as I trudged my way home that evening. Mother took one look at me and led me to the family library, sat me down to the table with milk and cookies and a stack of books, a set that had just arrived by Mistletoe Express called Lands and Peoples..I sat there and nibbled on cookies and read, and nibbled and read, crumbs all over the table and myself and didn’t stop until mother came in with an Atlas. The next Day Mrs. Douglass read the essay I had written with a little help from Mother and got an A for having done so.
After school Mrs. Douglas had me stay for a short visit. She showed me a way to study unknown to me. She stacked five geography books in front of me and asked me to flip through the pages and choose what I thought would be the best book for making a book report. I chose the one with all the maps, the Atlas. She then had me look in the back of each book and tell me what I saw. I discovered an index and in some cases, bibliographies.
In the following week I learned a principle which would someday make the owners of Google very wealthy. I used one book on my subject of choice. I’d check the table of contents with questions already written down, I’d write down a keyword or two and after reading what the book had to say on that subject, turn to the indexes of the other books and eventually to the bibliographies.
What I discovered was that ideas were worth having when they made sense. Ideas that resulted from research, from drawing with paper and pen from real life and eventually seeing illustrated in famous paintings and written about by the people whose names were on the faces of my first deck of cards called Authors, would stay with me for the rest of my life.