Unexpected joy found while serving as a ‘V'

I'm not going to spell out the “V” word in case, like me, it makes you feel as if you're trapped in an elevator with an army of fire ants.

I am going to tell you that in spite of my aversion to the word, in spite of acute bouts of laziness both winter and spring, in spite of dreading to see my “free days” nibbled like an Oreo cookie, I've spent many Wednesday afternoons this past semester “V'ing” at Dilworth Elementary.

The draw, of course, was my beguiling granddaughter, Ashley Birle, who's 7, and until school lets out today, a member of the awesome Andrea Franklin's rollicking first-grade class.

What began for me as a chore born of duty ended in joyful attachment.

I mean, really. Who can “criss-cross-apple-sauce” faster than Iverson or Anna?

Who can listen as raptly as Wyndham and Yaszmeen?

Who can hug as scrunchingly as Myah and Ava?

Opening new worlds

Many who “V” help youngsters read aloud.

I'll be the first to admit I lack the patience and prefer to do the reading myself.

What I don't lack is the memory of growing up an only child – often lonely – and how reading presented me with worlds that sizzled with people and drama.

Kings and queens and witches and trolls and, vividly, a brother and sister who made their way home through a dark forest by following a trail of moon-lit pebbles.

Read aloud to kids – it must be an engaging book and one with eye-catching illustrations – and watch how they knee-drift closer and closer to your chair, how they gorge on words and images.

Watch their worlds widen – from their backyards to The Edge of Nowhere (with apologies to Mercer Mayer's “How the Trollusk Got His Hat.”)

Help is always needed

Dilworth Elementary, obviously, is not Charlotte Country Day.

A child in Ashley's class confided to me one afternoon that her neighborhood is “nasty.”

About 63 percent of the kids in the school are on free or reduced-price lunch.

Worse, there were 319 unexcused absences across the grades in 2007 (compare that with 77 at Sharon Elementary).

“Vs” make a difference at any school, but especially at a school like Dilworth.

This year, 78 “Vs” gave Dilworth 864 “V” hours.

I asked administrative assistant Jacqueline Landis-Hines if they needed more.

“Always,” she said.

I know you're busy. But if you want to share the gospel of reading, I urge you to give of yourself next year to these kids whose fragile lives can flower or fail.

For now, I bid farewell and a carefree summer to my favorite first-grade class:

Alexis and Izreil and Essence and Rhodni.

Wyndham and Iverson and Yaszmeen and Axel.

Myah and Ahmayia and Michael and Kaylin and Jaya.

Colby and Anna and Calob and Ava and Al'Mahn.

And especially little Miss Ashley Birle.