Joe Buford was a normal Middle Tennessean. He had a career, was married and enjoyed the arts, but there was something holding him back.
He couldn’t read.
He didn’t have trouble with his vision, it wasn’t that he had issues with certain subjects, he was just never taught to read the words on the page. And so he kept this secret for decades, all while holding down a job and being married to his wife, Gloria. Then, one day, Gloria asked him to read something to her. He couldn’t do it.
Buford began taking classes 12 years ago to remedy the situation, and 12 years later, the secret that ate at him every single day has passed away.
Buford, along with four other Literacy All-Stars from local non-profit organizations, received tickets to the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend, plus a slew of NHL All-Star and Nashville Predators merchandise, thanks to Dollar General, PepsiCo/AMP Energy Drink and Preds forward Mike Fisher, who was on hand to tell his story to the participants at a ceremony last week held in the Patron Platinum Club at Bridgestone Arena.
In addition, the five local nonprofits, Monroe Harding, Literacy Council of Middle Tennessee, Martha O’Bryan Center, YWCA and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, each received a check for $10,000 to assist in continuing their literacy efforts.
The Literary All-Stars, along with the non-profit representatives had no idea they were gathered to receive anything more than a congratulations.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Buford said of the surprise. “It was just fantastic; I got home and pulled the stuff out and said, ‘Oh my goodness,’ I didn’t realize what was all in there. It was fantastic.”
The group also had the chance to pose for photos with Fisher, as well as receive a personalized signed copy of his book. Fisher told the group of his upbringing and how he persevered to make it to the National Hockey League and pursue his dream when the odds were against him. Buford and the others got plenty out of Fisher’s tale, but the feeling was mutual for the Preds centerman.
“It was more inspiring [for me] than probably for them hearing my story to be honest; to hear their stories was really cool,” Fisher said. “They’ve achieved some neat stuff, and I just try to encourage them to keep going, keep learning and keep dreaming. They’re great people, and I’m glad they’re able to be recognized.”
“It’s great to hear Mike’s story, and I think he probably did get as much back as he gave because the stories and the adults that are in this room - they are hard-working and putting in the extra hours so they can have a better future for themselves and their families, either by learning to read or receiving their high school diploma,” Dollar General Senior Director of Community Relations Denine Torr said. “It’s just a beautiful day when you see Nashville come together in this way.”
When Buford’s wife found out about his inability to read, he was prepared for the worse, telling her he would understand if she wanted a divorce. Instead, a new world of possibility opened up.
“It was for the best and now looking back on it, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, if I would’ve just spoken up earlier, things might’ve happened differently,’ but you can’t look at that; you have to look at where you are right now,” Buford said. “If she ever found out, I thought that would be the end of being together, but I found out that wasn’t the case. It was like a load being lifted off of my shoulder; once you get this big secret you’re hiding from everybody and you actually just go up and talk about it, that was a big relief.”
Buford, who will celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary this October, can’t wait to attend All-Star Weekend with his wife, but also to continue to complete his studies with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and to tell his story - a tale he was once reluctant to relate to anyone.
“If I could help somebody else and be able to step up and get help for them, I’m willing to expose myself of it,” Buford said. “I was a little hesitant of doing it and then I realized one day, it’s not about somebody else, it’s not about my family, it’s not about my brothers and sisters, it’s about me. If I could step up and do it and take advantage of this program, I would do it.
“I’m just so thankful for the program in being able to help me because it just opened my eyes up to not being so dependent on other people. I’m glad for the Predators, for Mike Fisher to come up and tell about his life, the way he grew up and the things he wanted to do and is doing. It’s really encouraging to be part of that.”