The meal was over and the best part was being brought to the table.

At least in the eyes of the two grandchildren who had dined with us, the best part was arriving. With egg drop soup consumed and the sweet-and-sour chicken devoured, their eyes lit up when the server brought the fortune cookies.

My wife and I carefully opened the wrappers, while the two grandkids ripped the cellophane off theirs. We all cracked open the cookies to get the slips of paper that held our fortunes. And then we read.

First my wife read hers, then I read aloud the words on mine, then my 9-year-old granddaughter. The 6-year-old kindergartner then started reading his. Without a single stumble he confidently read the words on the paper.

I’ll admit that at first I thought he was just making up words and copying what he saw the rest of us do. Then we looked at the paper and saw that indeed he had read the fortune as it was written.

We have known for awhile that Joshua was interested in words and that he worked hard to sound out the letters whenever he was confronted with printed text. But we didn’t realize until that moment that during his kindergarten year he had actually developed into a reader.

Two weeks later my wife had come home from a long day at school. She went up to the bedroom to get a bit of relaxation when through the door burst three of our four grandchildren. They had been out getting new books that they eagerly showed their school librarian grandmother.

Then each of them read to her from their books. First Joshua who had graduated from a fortune cookie insert to a paperback book. Then Hadley, a first grader, who reads with the expression of a teacher reading to her class. And Gabi, third grader, read from the spooky book series that she enjoys. Our oldest grandchild, Carter, 11, came in a few minutes later and regaled his grandmother with the beginning of a story about an American submarine that sank in the 1930s.

Reading is one of those skills that unlocks doors for the children who are able to master it. Inside the pages are amazing stories, essential information and even the knowledge of how to perform specific tasks.

Watching young kids as they grasp the idea of reading and see what a powerful tool they have is pretty amazing. On an intellectual level, it is like watching a child learning to walk. The world is never the same when they become readers, just like the world is never the same when a toddler takes those first steps.

The places books will take these children without their ever having to leave their home are limitless. Books open up the world and beyond. And that’s no fortune found inside a cookie.

* * *

The world of education loses many good teachers every year. They retire from careers of providing for the educational needs of our children, putting in more hours, more sweat and more tears than most of us recognize.

Those who use that tired saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” have no clue as to what is required of a teacher. And they have no idea of how many of our teachers go above and beyond the call of duty for their students and their schools.

One of the teachers who will be saying au revoir to education is my wife. Mary Lou is wrapping up her 41st year as an educator. The first 20-something years were in second grade classrooms, the past dozen or so in the school library (a.k.a. Media Center).

She has touched the lives of hundreds of children during her career. She has balanced the life of a professional educator with that of wife/mother and community volunteer. I am in awe of all that she has done.

I recognize that there are many others who are bidding farewell to their classrooms this year. Many of them have the same attributes as my wife. To all of them, I wish a long, happy and healthy retirement. And I thank them for the selfless call that they answered many years ago to be the ones who were entrusted with the future of our children.

With my wife joining me in retirement, does that mean I get to make a honey-do list for her?

Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.