By Hayley Thomas
Local children learned the forboding truth behind the infamous phrase "Bah, Humbug!" during a public reading of Charles Dickens' holiday classic, "A Christmas Carol," which took place at Studios on the Park from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Local senior citizen Harold Spencer, or "Spence," as his friends endearingly call him, read the book to a diverse group of youngsters and adults during the free event. The retired art history professor and Studios on the Park artist said he began reading the story to his family back in the 1950s.
"It was Christmas Eve and I read the book to my wife and four sons," Spencer said. "My youngest was still in the crib."
In 2002 the East Coast native relocated to Paso Robles and continued his tradition, sharing it publicly for the first time last weekend. Free cookies and hot beverages were provided and children were able to lounge on pillows strewn on the floor. A motley grouping of chairs in varied sizes and colors formed a casual seating area for listeners.
"[This event] was so perfect for the holidays and we were hoping it would coincide well with the Vine Street Victorian Showcase," said Sasha Irving, a Studios on the Park organizer. "Considering the size of the turnout, it looks like it did."
The crowd giggled in unison as Spencer switched back and forth from the book's celebrated characters. The ghost of Jacob Marley's lines were read with a spooky quality while Scrooge's every word was spat out in bitter distaste. Spencer read from an old, worn copy of the book and paused only to savor an occasional sip of hot coffee.
Listeners Logan and Chuck Hill said their 6-year-old daughter Emily heard the story for the first time Saturday.
"We'll definitely come back if there's a reading next year," Chuck said. "Things like this really add something new to the area, and we love all of the events Studios on the Park puts on."
Although Spencer said he hadn't read the book to anyone outside of his own family circle before, many decades of training helped him get by.
"It's like reading the story to my own family," he said. "In a way, we are all like a big family. Paso Robles is my new family."