Jeff Wallace

Jeff Wallace

The iPad buzzes as it does every afternoon around this time, and I slide the acceptance button to the right.

“Hello-o-o-o-o Chicago,” I say, just like every other day since the stay-at-home orders were issued a couple of months ago.

“Hello Carolina,” comes the reply.

Smiling faces of our two Chicago grandchildren emerge on the screen. It is story time.

Everyone handles the pandemic issues in their own way, and one method our Windy City family has used to cope with staying in place has been story time with their Aiken grandparents at lunch time and right before bed each day.

Fortunately, they know the person to call – their grandmother who they call Minna. Before retirement, she was a second grade teacher and a school librarian. Over her 40-plus years as an educator, she created a personal library of children’s books that is now housed in our garage – mostly in six filing cabinets.

There are also some plastic bins with books and a full bookcase upstairs in the room designated for grandchildren when they visit. Most of the titles are suitable for children in the early grades since that is where Minna spent the bulk of her career.

She purchased them from book fairs held annually at her school, from conferences she attended with children’s book authors present and from the order forms provided by publishers. We have books, books and more books.

Since her retirement, I have often wondered why she didn’t donate her wealth of kiddy lit to a school or an organization that would appreciate the contribution. If I asked the question to myself before, I no longer wonder. The books are for story time.

When the iPad buzzes for the FaceTime connection, Minna and I sit on the love seat in the family room and share stories with our Chicago duo. She does the reading. After all, a second grade teacher/librarian knows how to read to children. She knows the proper inflection and how to read slowly enough to be understood, quickly enough to maintain interest.

She knows how to hold up the pages so the listeners can see the illustrations. I make sure the iPad camera focuses in on the pictures. Once when Minna was otherwise occupied, I offered to read a book to my 5-year-old grandson and his 3-year-old sister. Ezra would have none of that, folded his arms in exasperation and said, “Minna reads.”

Put in my proper place, I waited until my wife could take her place and read the afternoon’s books. Most of the time there are two books per session, and Minna shows them both to the listeners before reading. They get to decide which is read first.

Currently we are reading Tomie dePaolo books. He is an author/illustrator who has published more than 200 books and won the Caldecott Medal for best illustrated book. Minna does not have all of dePaolo’s books, but she has enough to last for several days.

Her habit is to select an author and read all of that individual’s books that she has in the order in which they were published. Within each filing cabinet are books alphabetized by author (she was a librarian after all). She selects a writer or illustrator and pulls all of the age-appropriate material for our two Chicago grandchildren.

We have gone through Patricia Polacco, Mercer Meyer, Patricia McKissick, William Stieg, James Stevenson, Marc Brown, James Ransome, and of course, Dr Seuss.

In our upstairs portion of the library, we have gone through Sweet Pickles – a series of books about animal characters from A to Z. We have read a plethora of Curious George books written by H.A. and Margret Rey and always wondered why the Man in the Yellow Hat would leave George alone in situations where the little monkey was sure to get into trouble.

Each time the Man in the Yellow Hat leaves and tells George, “Now don’t get into trouble,” Ezra shakes his head, smiles and knows that trouble is on the way.

Daily story time has helped our daughter give additional structure to the lives of her children, and it has given Minna and me something to look forward to as well. We are now connected each day to our northern family in a way that would not have occurred without the pandemic’s stay-home requirements.

I feel sure that when these two youngsters remember the great pandemic of 2020, one of their memories will be of story time from South Carolina with their Minna and the guy who answers the twice-daily calls with “Hello-o-o-o-o Chicago!”

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.