By Peggy Webb
Miss Frankie, the librarian on the Lee County Bookmobile, opened up the world of books for me. When I was six, I thought she must be at least a hundred years old. Though she smelled ancient, a combination of baby powder, breath mints and the glue used in book bindings, she had the lively mind of an avid reader. And she knew how to put exactly the right books into the hands of a six-year-old Mississippi farm girl in love with words.
My house was one of the “stops” for the bookmobile. I was always on the front porch waiting for Miss Frankie. She’d help me fill a cardboard box with books then tell me to share them with the kids in the neighborhood. I did, but only after I’d read them first. I learned to read very fast so I’d have at least four books finished before Mama notified the neighbors that our monthly stash of books had arrived.
By the time I was in fifth grade, I was not only reading voraciously, but I had also learned how to project myself into the story and become the characters. Mrs. Cynthia Pickens, or “Miss” Pickens as we called her, believed in stretching little minds with great literature. She introduced us to Mark Twain by reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to us at story time.
In country schools, it was not uncommon for students to advance through the grades without learning more than the basics of reading. A little kid who could not only read well but make the characters come alive was rare. So “Miss’ Pickens often called on me to read at story time. It was my first taste of standing before an audience presenting the work of an author, and I was hooked!
After a meandering journey that took me through two children, more dogs than I can remember, graduate school and the literature of great Southern writers – Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Walker Percy – I made the transition from reader to published writer.