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Darrell Huckaby: It's not Christmas without books

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

One of the things for which I am most thankful is that I was born into a reading family. There were always books in our house and nothing is sadder — or more distressing — than to walk into a house in which no books are visible, especially if children live there. The biggest head start a parent can give a child in life, academically, at least, is to encourage them to read.

For my entire life, books have been a big deal at Christmas time. My parents always made sure there were books under our little Charlie Brown Christmas trees when I was growing up in Porterdale. When my own children were small I made sure there were books under our tree for them, too. One of my favorite Christmas pictures is of our first child, Jamie Leigh, age 15 months, sitting in the floor next to her Glo Worm and other toys, closely examining a Little Golden Book.

It is not a coincidence that she answers to Dr. Jamie Leigh now.

My parents and I used to exchange books at Christmas and we loved to give one another signed books. Somehow, knowing that the giver of the gift had gone to the trouble of seeking out an author and waiting in line to have a book autographed and personalized made the gift that more special.

If Mama turned up out of pocket some afternoon during the Christmas shopping season I knew that she had driven to some Atlanta shopping mall -- which might as well have been communist China, for her -- to wait in line for Lewis Grizzard to scrawl his name across the inside cover of "Kathy Sue Laudermilk, I Love You" or "Won't You Come Home, Billy Bob Bailey." I still have all of Grizzard's books. Most were given to me by my mother at Christmas and it wouldn't seem like Christmas Day if I didn't fall asleep on the couch reading the latest tome.

My mother was a big fan of Celestine Sibley, and I have traveled near and far to secure her signature on a book for my mother's Christmas gift. Celestine wrote a daily column for a hundred thousand years in the Atlanta Constitution. She also wrote a book about Rich's entitled "Dear Store" and a book about her own memories called, "A Place Called Sweet Apple," as well as many others. Whenever she published a new book I would hunt her down and get a signed copy for my mother, and she always pretended to remember me from two or three Christmases past. One of my biggest thrills in life was when, on the day after her death, the AJC published a picture of her sitting at the roll top desk in her office, which had several books stacked on top of it. One of them was "Need Two," my first book.

Eugenia Price was another of my mother's favorite authors and I was able to get her signature on a couple of books for Mama. She wrote about St. Simons Island and I learned to love the place long before I ever had the opportunity to visit. One year I gave Mama a signed Eugenia Price book and she gave me the same one -- also signed. I don't know how we missed one another at the store.

I gave my father books, too. He loved anything by Ferrol Sams, who was raised in the same rural Fayette County in which my daddy was born. I always enjoyed getting books signed by Dr. Sams because he took time to talk to me and has been known to tell a young man a bawdy tale or two as reward for waiting in line for his signature.

My own kids still like to get books for Christmas, although honesty compels me to admit that they have to settle for unsigned copies usually. Pat Conroy and Nelson DeMille and J.K. Rowling aren't quite as accessible as Grizzard and Celestine Sibley used to be.

Now I told you all of that to tell you this. All of my life, while becoming addicted to reading books by the great Southern authors, I secretly dreamed of one day being counted among their number. I won't pretend to presume that I have earned that distinction yet, but I have had the good fortune of having penned 10 books of my own and have known the joy of having people seek me out to sign those books to give as Christmas presents -- and it makes me feel good when people tell me, "My (mother, father, sister, brother, aunt or uncle; fill in the blank) just doesn't feel like it's Christmas if they don't have one of your books to enjoy on Christmas Day."

There are 19 shopping days left, y'all. Make somebody's Christmas -- even if it's mine.

Darrell Huckaby will be signing his books Saturday at Evans Market, Ga. Highway 20 S., Conyers, from 10 am until 4 pm. He is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.