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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Every day across the country Americans are recording interviews at StoryCorps. They sit down with someone they know and ask the question, tell me about your life. That's just what Michelle Miller did when she brought her student, Joe Buford to StoryCorps in Nashville. He's 63 years old. They met when Joe came to the adult literacy center where Michelle is a tutor. He wanted to learn how to read. Here, Joe remembers what his life was like before they met.

Mr. JOE BUFORD: Nobody in my family really knew how bad it was with me and how hurt I was over it. My wife did not know until after we was married. Some mail came one day and normally she'd tell me what came and what needed to be paid. But this time she gave it to me and said, here, read this. And so she found out that I couldn't just read something from top to bottom. That tore my heart out. And at this point, I was working in the shop doing repair on construction equipment and they wanted to give me a desk job and I know I couldn't do this. I would lay awake at night trying to figure out how can I tell them I didn't want the job. And so I told them that I was satisfied with what I was doing. Most of the time I would just try to stay in the background because I just didn't feel worthy of being up front for anything.

Ms. MICHELLE MILLER: Do you remember when you first found out that you were going to have a baby? What did that feel like?

Mr. BUFORD: Well, I was excited about it and at the same time I thought what was wrong with me would be passed on to my kids and I was so afraid that they weren't going to learn to read. The biggest thing I was afraid of was the child getting up in my lap and asking me to read something to her. It just terrified me. So one day I asked both of them, could they read, and they said yes, we can't remember when we couldn't. That just made me feel so happy that what was wrong with me, I didn't pass it on to them.

Ms. MILLER: You and I have been working together for three years now I think.

Mr. BUFORD: Almost three, yeah.

Ms. MILLER: What made you decide that you want to try to learn to read?

Mr. BUFORD: Well, after both of my girls are married and gone, I thought now's the time I really need to do something with myself. And I thought, well I'm going to give it a year. If I can't pick up anything, I'll know it's just not for me.

Ms. MILLER: Do you remember when you realized that you really were picking it up?

Mr. BUFORD: Yes, I jumped up, I ran through the house. It made me cry. And I'm thinking, wow, it really is sinking in. You was the best thing that ever happened to me. You have changed my life.

Ms. MILLER: You've changed mine too. I'm looking forward to five or ten or however many years that we still have to work together.

Mr. BUFORD: So am I.

Ms. MILLER: It's going to be fun.

Mr. BUFORD: I'm looking forward to it.

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MONTAGNE: Joe Buford with his reading tutor Michelle Miller in Nashville. Their StoryCorps interview will be archived along with all the others at the Library of Congress. Joe Buford would love to read your comments. Write to him at npr.org.

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