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Make reading a Christmas family tradition

The fog was burning off the Anna Maria Island bridge as I drove into work the other day. I was listening to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” when Lynn Neary’s interview with Sally and Stephen Kern of Virginia began.

“In the dark days after Thanksgiving, before the holiday season is in full swing, Sally Kern drags out a big box filled not with holiday decorations ... but with books,” Neary said.

“Sally and Stephen Kern read to their kids pretty much every night, but the books in this box are special, reserved for this time of year only. They are filled with stories, mostly about Christmas, but also about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the winter solstice.”

The Kerns, who believe no one is too young or too old to listen to the written word, honor a tradition that has turned their sons Larkin, 7, and Garret, 10, into avid readers.

My parents read to my sister and me when we were growing up. A love of reading was one of the greatest gifts they gave us.

Kern’s interview reminded me of another precious gift I received a long time ago — the friendship of Frank Wolfarth Walsh, owner of the Old Town Bookstore in Saginaw, Mich.

Listening to the Kerns talk about their family tradition of reading, I was propelled back to a frosty morning in early December. As I stepped inside the bookstore, the chime over the door tinkled its greeting. Frank was in his big arm chair, surrounded by books. I pulled up a chair and within seconds we were deep in conversation.

When the door chimed again and more customers came in, Frank looked up and smiled with glee. “All right,” he said in a cheery voice.

Through the windows I could see giant snowflakes floating by — the first snow of the year, which triggered a wonderful bookstore tradition.

Frank bounded to the door. With a swift turn of the key, “Click!” the door was locked.

Customers looked up in surprise as Frank, a worn copy of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in hand, sat down in his chair. With great flourish he announced he was going to read the whole book (it was a short story) and no entry nor egress would be allowed until he was done. Anyone who wished to leave had to do so then.

No one ever did.

Then, in his rich, deep voice, Frank began, “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner ...”

That day was just one of thousands of enchanted experiences at the bookstore.

The bookstore closed years ago. My dear friend Frank passed away in March.

But as I drove into work, the tendrils of fog swirling across the road were replaced by snowflakes and I heard Frank’s voice once again ... “One Christmas was so much like another ...”

If you have never read aloud to your kids, this Christmas is wonderful time to begin a new tradition.