Book Reports in the Spring

I hear them talking through the trees. They are my neighbors. On a calm night like tonight, I can hear their whole conversation.

I hear the young mother saying, “It’s our twelfth day of quarantine, Daddy, what about you?

In response, I hear the digital cellphone-voice of an old man saying, “I dunno, haven’t been keeping count.”

“GRANDPA!” shouts another young voice. A boy. Toddler age.

“Hi!” says Grandpa. “I miss you.”

Their conversation lulls back and forth. Woman, then kid, then old man, repeat. Almost like ping pong.

Speaking of ping pong, I was always a pitiful ping pong player. I don’t know what it is about me, but it’s one of those sports that I just can’t seem to get.

Tennis is even worse. I’ve played tennis only once. I borrowed my buddy’s expensive racquet. I played until I passed out. When I awoke in the hospital severely dehydrated with a slightly torn groin, I swore off the sport forever. But I digress.

“GRANDPA!” says the neighbor boy. “GUESS WHAT!”



“Wow,” says Grandpa’s electronic voice.

“That’s right,” says Mom. “He’s home, twenty-four seven.”

“Lucky you,” says Grandpa.

“Lucky me,” says Mama.

Lately I’ve been wondering how kid-me might have felt about school being permanently cancelled.

When I was young, springtime was intoxicating. I have golden memories of running through fields, splashing through creeks, catching crawfish, and drinking too much Coca-Cola.

But for us, there was always this twinge of sorrow during spring because, in your heart, you knew that you had to go back to school when the break was over. You’d have to write more essays, memorize more stuff about the War of 1812, and learn more about the unique bones that comprise the human nose. So spring was always a little sad.

But if someone would have said, “Hey, guess what? You don’t have to go to school for the rest of the year!” we would have freaked out. We would have been so excited that we would have started our own major world religion.

But in spite of all the fun we kids had, do you know what I had to do every spring break? My father made me read. He was strict when it came to reading. I had to read one book during spring break, and four books during summer break.

My father took it a step further and made me write spring-break book reports. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my old man almost successfully made me hate reading.

If I’m being honest, the last thing in the world that I wanted to be doing in springtime was reading stupid books. Especially when my friends were out catching mudbugs.

It didn’t seem fair. My father, an ironworker who spent all day dangling from 13-story buildings, living in the throngs of pure electric adventure. And here I was forced to read.

But I had no choice. So I read the dumb books, and I wrote his dumb old 500-word book reports. Back then, we actually had to do word counts with the tips of our pencils. It took forever.

I read “Black Beauty,” “Jungle Book,” “White Fang,” “Three Musketeers,” and “The Complete Unabridged Archives of Leo Tolstoy.”

When my father died, I was still a kid. And on the day of his funeral, I swore I’d never read again. It was a lie. And I’m glad that my ridiculous vow didn’t last a week. Because I have always loved reading. I think my real problem has always been that I just don’t like being told what to do. In other words, I’m a little stinker. That’s all.

It took me a hundred years to figure out that it was the little things from childhood that have echoed throughout my life. It has taken even longer to realize that my father taught me to love the English language, and he did it on purpose.

It was all him, the ironworker, who first taught me the Oxford comma, and all about the rhythm of sentences, and the right way to read poetry, and how to write even though I didn’t feel like it. I had no idea how valuable these things would become to me.

I remember when a local ironworkers newsletter asked him to write something for one issue. I don’t remember what the publication was called, but I remember my father stayed up late one night, pecking out ideas on a typewriter.

He wrote a short piece about being an ironworker. And for the life of me, I wish I still had that essay. But all I have is the memory of him reading it aloud. And I remember how much sincerity he put into reading it to me.

I don’t remember any of the words. But I remember the title. “The Dancer.” In the essay, he compared the tight-rope walk of the daredevil ironworker to the choreography of dancers. And when he finished reading, I applauded him.

The piece was published, and when the newsletter arrived in the mail he cut it out and framed it. He was so proud.

What a fool I am. I don’t know where that cutout went. But I guess you misplace things in life, and you can’t get them back once they’re gone.

I am interrupted by my neighbors.

“Hey!” I hear the neighbor woman yell into her cellphone. Her voice cuts through the woods. “I really miss seeing you. I can’t wait until we see each other again, Daddy.”

I second that.


  1. Van - March 31, 2020 7:55 am

    I feel the same way about my oldest son that we lost eight plus years ago. Gonna be a great reunion!!

  2. A Smaller Life - March 31, 2020 10:18 am

    Gosh I sank into that post and got completely taken over. Your father taught you he written word well … and the lovely thing is you now know it.

  3. turtlekid - March 31, 2020 11:49 am

    You have a gift. It touches my soul every time! Sean Paul you are a master of words! ❤️❤️❤️

  4. Tom - March 31, 2020 11:53 am

    You said read aloud. I’ve been reading you long enough to know you really wanted to say “out loud”!

  5. Chris Matthews - March 31, 2020 12:36 pm

    I’ll make that unanimous- not a day goes by I don’t long to see my Daddy again. You just don’t know what your words do for me every day!

  6. steve hoover - March 31, 2020 12:39 pm

    Good stuff. Memories is the armour we use when fighting tomorrow.

  7. Mary L Joy - March 31, 2020 12:56 pm

    I miss my parents. I really miss them. They were brave and courageous and hard-working and knew how to “make do” because they had lived through the Great Depression. I think I would have liked your father. Any man who would teach his son about the Oxford comma is a fine man in my book.

  8. Marilyn - March 31, 2020 1:24 pm

    Had to look up “Oxford Comma” and see that in my world it is not anything to be concerned about. Writing is not my forte, but you, Sean, hit the nail on the head by bringing us thought provoking thoughts every day! A great start to my day, each and every day. Thank you, and may God continue to bless you, Jamie and your furry friends.

  9. Christine Washburn - March 31, 2020 1:52 pm

    Thank you.
    Never knew that the last comma in a series was called Oxford Comma. I have always wondered if it should go there.
    Learn something new every day.

  10. Laurie Ulrich - March 31, 2020 2:07 pm

    This says so many things about the value of teaching kids to read and to express themselves in writing–and is encouragement for every parent who thinks his/her kid is going to hate them as adults for making them do something like reading during spring break. (And there’s a little glimpse here of the origin of your writing style and quirky humor: your father’s piece was The Dancer–poetic, for sure.) As usual, thanks for starting my day in such a meaningful way~

  11. Ann - March 31, 2020 2:08 pm

    Life’s lessons learned and later appreciated….and shared through beautiful words.

  12. Dianne - March 31, 2020 2:26 pm

    Your Daddy did you a huge favor by making your read. My mother was an avid reader, and I picked up the “habit” from her. She always said that it grew your imagination and took you to places where you’ve never been and may never go. I loved using my imagination in deciding what the characters looked like, too. The love of reading is a wonderful gift that will never let you be lonely or bored. Thank you, Sean.

  13. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 31, 2020 2:27 pm

    You got me again Sean. Can’t wait till we all get to see our Daddies again.

  14. Jackie - March 31, 2020 2:34 pm

    I took my own Fall breaks for squirrel hunting and Spring breaks for fishing. Many times I told the teacher I didn’t come to school because I had a headache from reading so much the night before. Then my MEAN sister started telling on me at school and at home.

  15. Katie Watson Nelsen - March 31, 2020 2:45 pm

    I’m so glad that your dad “forced” you to read and write. What a treasure you are! I’m sure he’s very proud of you.

  16. Robert Chiles - March 31, 2020 2:47 pm

    Your father made you who you are, and for that I am grateful.

  17. Lita - March 31, 2020 3:30 pm

    heart, heart, heart, heart, heart…..

  18. Joe Patterson - March 31, 2020 3:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing funny how we remember things our parents insisted we do which we hated turn out to be some of our greatest joys as we get older

  19. Linda Moon - March 31, 2020 4:48 pm

    I wish I had assigned some Leo Tolstoy to my fifth grade students. When I was a kid in sixth grade, my smartest friend chose (on her own!) to read WAR AND PEACE. Your father was a wise and prescient Daddy, Sean, when he made you read and write. I bet he will love seeing you again, Writer. Just maybe because of some universal “religion”, he sees you now.

  20. Elizabeth - March 31, 2020 5:30 pm

    Wow, you little stinker! What a great piece. Thank you for sharing such a heart felt memory.

  21. Edna Barron - March 31, 2020 5:43 pm

    As a child, I read everything I got my hands on. Reading, to me, was wonderful. It still is. Stay safe and have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  22. catladymac - March 31, 2020 8:37 pm

    I taught grade school for 31 years and have been trying to imagine how everyone must feel about this. If it isn’t already, it soon will be like “Christmas every day.”

  23. Gail - March 31, 2020 10:22 pm

    I bet you could find that article

  24. B. L. Souders - April 1, 2020 4:11 am

    If you have the name of the publication and perhaps the year, a reference librarian might be able to find that piece for you.

  25. Virginia Hall - April 1, 2020 11:18 am

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Mary Hicks - May 12, 2020 8:51 pm

    Thanks again, Sean, for a heart touching story. My Dad passed when he was 56. He was always reading! The newspaper, history books, even encylepedia! He learned a lot. But, it didn’t keep him from drinking whiskey. He was an alcoholic. He was clean for several years before a massive cerebral haemorrhage. I want to see and hug my two daughters, grandchildren and sisters so much right now. I appreciate you, Sean, for lifting my spirits or making me cry and for bringing back so many childhood memories. God bless you and Jamie!


Leave a Comment