Reading “Time” for 65-years.
by Adrienne Hatter
Hazel Hatter has always been a well-read woman. In the family, she’s renown for kindly but sternly correcting her grandchildren on their grammar — “It is ‘better than I’ not ‘better than me’” — and hiding dollar bills in books to encourage the younger ones to read. As an avid reader, I always dutifully finished my books; some of my craftier cousins would simply shake the books out for the money.
A day out with Grandma Hazel meant going to Barnes & Nobles and picking out any book your heart desired — with the added caveat of always perusing the classics section, first. I would sometimes get up to five or six books despite my mother’s protests that new books were too expensive, particularly since I would oftentimes finish them in under a day or two. But that was just my grandmother: reading was worth it, no price could be put on it.
Hazel’s stance on the interminable value of reading was formed early on, but perhaps best demonstrated by her 65-year-long subscription to TIME Magazine. She first signed up for the subscription in 1955, shortly after the birth of her first son: “It was around $5 a week, I think. It doesn’t seem like much now, but back then it was a lot,” she explains to me. Her late husband and my late grandfather, George Hatter, used to bring it up every so often, labeling it an unnecessary expense. But to Hazel, it was anything but unnecessary. She always retorted, “I’m a young mother and I’m cut off from the world. I need to stay informed.”
When Grandpa George would get invited to work soirees, my grandmother would prepare for the event by reading the entirety of the most recent TIME Magazine edition, cover to cover. “I never wanted to be ignorant, I never wanted to be the one who didn’t know what people were talking about.” But her motivation wasn’t only out of fear: “I wanted to be able to have an opinion on current events, to bring new topics up and stir conversation.”
As a vivacious and highly intelligent person, she had always wanted to pursue academics; but in the 1950’s, family duty prevailed. After working for a brief time, she quickly got married, and three little boys came along in short order. While she’s never expressed anything but gratitude for her family, her husband, and her life…she also never cancelled that subscription.
When the boys were at school, she would trudge through East Coast rain, snow and sleet to get to the library. Reading was an escape, and a lifeline, all at once. And two decades later, after her boys were all grown up out of the house, she turned around and went right back to school. At the age of 50 years old, my dear grandmother went back and got her Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.
It is this decision to go back to school that best signifies the power of her life’s example to me, though I believe each of her aforementioned choices are greater than the sum of their parts.
There is something poignant about a young mother in the 1950’s steadfastly choosing to make time for literature. A woman who could discourse with the best of them using the best education she could muster up for herself: curiosity, determination and a well-written news magazine.
In an age when anything and everything is at our fingertips, it’s worth remembering a young mother of three carefully scouring every page of a magazine month after month — underlining names and events, highlighting phrases and folding page corners — so she could walk into any room and say, “I belong here.”
If my grandmother’s experience may teach us nothing else, let it remind us all of the value of reading a damn book.