Five months ago, Horace Holmes sat down and wrote a letter to his grandson.
It was the first letter he had ever written anyone.
His only grandchild, R.J. Greene, has not seen the letter. It will be a gift from his G. Pop on his first birthday in three weeks.
Of course, R.J. cannot read. His grandfather would not have been able to read it a few years ago.
Horace is a local photographer and minister and a highly respected member of this community.
Although he suffered from a reading disorder, nobody outside his family and close circle of friends knew he was illiterate.
He spent the majority of his life covering it up while trying to make sense of all those consonants and vowels being tossed around like letters on a giant scrabble board.
After he learned to read, he wrote his first letter. It was straight from the heart.
Your Granddaddy has something very important to tell you -- your granddaddy did not really learn to read till he was 55 years old, even though I have a three-page resume. I (have) been on Air Force One. I have photographed great men and women. I have made Coca-Cola a lot of money when I worked for them. I am an internationally-known photographer and preacher and have a college degree, but I could not really read. You see, my dyslexia kept me from learning what you will learn as a four or five-year-old. Thats why I am writing this -- to tell you how important it is that you learn to read.
Horace ended the 793-word letter by telling R.J. the story of how he had enrolled at an adult education class at Central Georgia Technical College.
His instructor, Phyllis Dorn, began working with him on a new phonics-based program. It provided him with the building blocks to start reading and the courage to stop hanging his head in shame.
Just driving down the road and being able to read billboards and license plates suddenly brought him great happiness.
One day you will know that joy, too. Embrace it! Love it and share it with your children! Learning to read is almost as important as breathing -- no, it is breathing! You will breathe life into everything you do if you can read.
Horace will wait until R.J. is old enough to tell him about how a copy of the letter traveled 183 miles to North Adams Street in Tallahassee, Fla.
It was sent to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. In June, Horace was notified his letter had been selected as one of the winners in the foundations Devotedly Dad letter contest.
September is National Literacy Month. The foundation, created by former first lady Barbara Bush, points out there are more than 30 million adults in the U.S. who are functionally illiterate. They cannot read a newspaper, a prescription label on a bottle of medicine or the ingredients on the side of a cereal box.
Learning to read has not been the only miracle in Horaces life. In June 2009, he was the commencement speaker when 44 graduates received their GED diplomas through Central Georgia Techs adult education program.
Almost a month to the day later, on his 59th birthday, Horace dropped by the Macon Volunteer Clinic to check out a problem he was having with his legs. His visit was anything but routine. The test results were alarming.
Horace was rushed to the hospital, where he had emergency surgery for six heart blockages, with four of the arteries closed at 100 percent.
How have you been alive? the doctors and nurses kept asking him. He developed pneumonia and a series of infections landed him back in the hospital again.
If he thought learning to read was difficult, he spent most of the next year undergoing physical therapy to regain the use of his motor skills.
I loved writing the letter to my grandson, but the most powerful part to me will be reading it to him, Horace said.
The birthday party for R.J. will be Oct. 6.
The following day will be pretty special, too. Its the 41st wedding anniversary for Horace and his wife, Yvonne.
In the past, Ive always just bought her a card, he said.
This time? Well ... I guess it can no longer be a secret.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.