Ed Carter, 64 at the time of this interview, was a student at The Literacy Project’s Charboneau Learning Center in Greenfield. He also became a member of the Board of Directors and spoke in public numerous times about The Literacy Project and learning to read as an adult.
When I graduated from school, I couldn’t read nor write. What happened was, when I was a kid they held me back in second grade, I guess it was, because I had what they called a speech impediment. And they didn’t know what to do with me. I used to stutter.
But then, I overcome that. I mean, I still stutter a little bit, if I get real nervous, but outside of that I overcame it. Back then, they wanted to put me in a, well, I think they call it an insane asylum, because they didn’t know what to do with me. And my mother says, “Uh-uh. No way is he going away like that.” She really stood up for me. It was tough, you know? Of course I was young and my mother didn’t say too much to me about it, but she fought with the doctors and everybody else. So consequently I stayed home, stayed out of the institutions and everything else like that.
So [the school] put me in the back of the room and that’s where I stayed all day and they didn’t do nothing with me. And they said, “Read a book.” I says, “How the heck can I read a book if I can’t read?” Finally, I didn’t tell them that.
I went to a vocational school at the high school, and I took shop. So what happened is, we had one week of shop and one week of class. One week of shop, build stuff, and one week of class, try to pass that. But I had a harder time doing that. Then I finished out the school in what they call shop course, carpentry and stuff like that. And I graduated. I just wish they had done more than they did. That’s my opinion. The school system did not, I feel, treat me very good.
I was married twenty some odd years, and my wife didn’t know I couldn’t read nor write. We’ve known each other for… I don’t know how long. She was in the band with me, the high school band. Something came up and I needed somebody for a date and so back then I was shy and I didn’t dare to call anybody. So my mother called her and wanted to know if she would go out with me, and so she said yeah. So we went out. And I asked her if she would marry me, and she said, “No, not tonight,” she says. So I said okay. So a couple of days later I asked her again. I said, “Will you marry me?” She said, “Are you serious?” I said, “Yes, I’m serious.” She said, “Yes, I will.” And of course, back then you had to go and ask their parents’ permission to marry their daughter. So I did and that was it. Started planning for the wedding.
And then our 25th anniversary was coming up and, see, we were planning on going on a cruise. My objective was to be able to read the menu without having to say, “What are you having? I’ll have the same thing.” So, I says to the wife, I says, “What do you think about me going back to school?” And she says, “For why?” I says, “To learn how to read and write.” She said, “You know how to read and write.” I say, “No, I don’t.” “You don’t?!” And I says, “No.”
[If I needed to read something,] I would usually say to her, “Here, you read it. You can read better than I can.” And, of course, she used to read it and everything like that. And I could get away with not reading it. Even her mother and her father didn’t know that I couldn’t read. And, of course, I watched a lot of TV, if I wanted to be current on the stuff that would come on TV.
But see, what I couldn’t do I made up other ways. Like, if I had to go to the bank and fill out a withdrawal slip, I’ll take my glasses off and leave them out in the car, and tell them, if they could fill it out for me, “I left my glasses in the car.” And they would. With work, you had to read repair orders. I was an auto technician for a few years and I was a truck driver for eighteen years or so. In the auto business you had to read a repair order and that really stumped me. So I would go to the guy that wrote it and I would say, “What does this say? I can’t read your writing,” or something like that. And he would tell me, and of course, then I knew what was going on.
I was a type of person, if say, you show me how to do something, and do it easier – beautiful. I would learn and that would make my job a lot easier. If somebody’s willing to take the time to show me something, I’m willing to learn. That happened quite a bit in the automobile industry.
I came to The Literacy Project for quite a while, because I wanted to learn everything, as much as I could. And back then it was Lindy Whiton and Jim Vaughan [Co-Founders]. They tested me when I first came to the Project, and I had 2nd or 3rd grade reading skills. Maybe not even that amount. Lindy had a little book, probably a first or second grade book, and I had trouble reading that.
So eventually, over the years and stuff, it got to the point where I could read the stuff like that. And I read one whole book, with a volunteer that we had, and she got up and she was waving and everything else, “He read it! He read the whole story!”
Usually I was kind of one-on-one with a volunteer. We had one volunteer, Jim Brissette. I felt comfortable with him. He would say, “You’ve got to read all the time, or most of the time, and then you become efficient at it.” And so, that’s why I go along the highway and read the signs. Even now, today, if we’re driving along on the road, I’ll read the signs and nine times out of ten I’ll get them right.
If it wasn’t for The Literacy Project, I wouldn’t really be where I am today. Matter of fact, Jim Vaughan says to me, he says, “Hey Ed, how would you like to give a speech?” I says, “I don’t know about that Jim.” And so he says, “Think about it.” I thought about it. And so I says, “What the hell– nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So we went up to the Rotary Club, and we had a question and answer period, which, to brag, I think I made out pretty good. And then Jim come out with me and he shook my hand and he said, “Congratulations, Ed. You did a hell of a job. I was proud of you.” And that was the beginning of the end. We gave a lot speeches. By this time it didn’t bother me. I don’t want to blow my own horn, but we were on T.V.!
But the main focus, or whatever you want to call it, was the 25th wedding anniversary. I wanted to, as I said, go on that cruise to Alaska and be able to read the menu. And when we did go on the cruise, I could read the menu and order what I want to. I [ordered] lobster. Lobster tails, and they were probably that big!
After the point where I was able to read right, I would say [to my wife], “You want to read this?” She’d say, “No, you can read it. Read it.” So I read it. You know, if we get any cards, Easter cards, birthday cards, whatever, I read them to her. We complement each other, I guess you’d call it. I depend on her for stuff that I can’t do, you know, read or anything, and she depends on me for things she can’t do. Which isn’t very much! She can do just about anything.