As a third-grader in Falkner Elementary School who lived just outside a tiny rural town of the same name in northern Mississippi, I knew little about the 50 states of America.Tied to the …
Tied to the chores of my grandfather’s farm, I spent early mornings and late afternoons feeding the chickens while dodging their poop, collecting the eggs while dodging pecks from the spunky hens, slopping the hogs while dodging the slings of mud, occasionally milking a cow while dodging her irritating kicks, forking hay while dodging rat snakes in the loft of the rickety old barn, and picking purple-hull peas while dodging the wasps.
Maybe that’s why I knew little about the states. Most of my time was spent dodging.
But that was just me, a country boy born in a mid-1950s hospital in Tippah County who developed a boyhood taste for peanut butter, especially when spread across a Saltine, or maybe swathed in between two slices of white bread with grape or apple jelly … and always Bama. Always. It tasted good, and was the cheapest brand Big Star sold.
Grown-ups used to tell me we lived in The Magnolia State. I didn’t really understand the connection until somebody finally told me it was a tree … the state tree, in fact. I assumed that meant Mississippi owned all the magnolias, and we were the only state that grew them.
My assumptions were proven wrong in March 1966, when my family followed Dad’s job hunt north to Memphis.
Thanks to his 1940s degree in agriculture from Mississippi State University, my father received an offer from the Shelby County Health Department to work as a dairy inspector, and years later as an environmentalist.
Because Memphis was too big a place for our tastes, we landed in a rental house 20 miles east of the giant Tennessee city. As a newcomer to the pocket town of Collierville, I discovered magnolias grew there, too. Perhaps I should have spent less time in Granddaddy’s barn, and more time with the textbooks.
Events of the present often rekindle memories from our past. It happened to me a few days ago at the office when a postmarked letter was dropped on my desk. It came from a third-grader named “Avin,” a youngster hailing from the city of McLean, Va., somewhere in that state’s northern half.
Unlike me at that tender age, Avin seems committed to learning more about the states, and specifically Tennessee. In the letter addressed simply to “Editor,” he described how his class is working on a “states” project.
I’ve received this type of letter previously from school youngsters in other states who were working on similar projects. But each is always as delightful as the next. Their requests are simple: They’d like information about Tennessee, and they’re hoping readers of the hometown newspapers receiving the letters will send — to the return address — anything that’s available … about them, about their towns, about anything local folks would like to send.
Here’s how Avin explained it in the letter I received:
“Hello! I am a third-grade student in Northern Virginia, and my class is learning about the United States. Each third-grader is learning about a specific state, and I have chosen the great state of Tennessee! I am very excited to learn more about your state and wish to represent you well in my final State Fair project.”
Avin added, “I am writing to ask you to please publish the letter below in your ‘Letters to the Editor’ section of your newspaper. It will enhance my learning if I can get the perspective from actual people who live in, and love, their state!”
In closing, he offered, “Thank you for your kind consideration in helping me with my project!”
Obviously, Avin likes exclamation points. He should. His is the raw energy, and unbridled passion, of a child who still sees the world through eyes free of judgment and who listens with ears relentlessly perked for the next adventure. Age has a sad way of sapping such drive as we endlessly hurdle the trials of life.
Perhaps fate will be kinder to this Virginia lad.
As requested, Avin’s “Letter to the Editor” can be found on these Opinion pages of today’s edition. Please take a moment to read it. If your time allows, a mailed response to his request for information about Tennessee, and our Cleveland and Bradley County community, would be much appreciated.
As you will see, Avin is especially interested in postcards, maps, pictures, souvenirs, general information and even a copy of his letter clipped from this newspaper. Personally, I would suggest sending along a handwritten note … in cursive script, not typed. Little fellows his age need to see how people once communicated. It could even inspire him to do the same.
Anyone in our hometown is invited to respond: Individuals, civic groups, churches, schools, businesses, professionals, government leaders, the Chamber of Commerce … just anybody who would like to make a difference in the life of a little boy you’ll probably never meet.
Send your response and materials to: Mrs. B’s Class, The Langley School, 1411 Balls Hill Road, McLean, VA 22101.
I’ve never met anyone named Avin; at least, not that I can recall. So, I Googled it. Websites I visited say it’s a rare name, yet one used for either a boy or a girl. So, I called the school and their folks confirmed. “Our” Avin is a little boy.
In further researching the name, I also made this discovery: The name means “love.”
In my way of thinking, that’s reason enough to answer a precious child’s letter asking for help.
(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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