Sunday, April 22, 2007

For the love of books

Allow me to get my geek on here for a moment. In my neck of the woods, the weather this weekend has been glorious: sunny, warm, breezy. Perfect. This morning I need to mow the lawn, trim, fertilize, pull weeds from and mulch the flower beds. Before I do the manual labor, however, I want to talk about one of my fondest memories from childhood: the public library.

I lived in the country until I was almost 10 years old. We moved into a house in town two weeks before my 10th birthday, and it was wonderful. I got to walk to school instead of riding the bus; I got to play with my friends that lived in town; that summer, I began to play summer softball. Also that first summer, I acquired my first library card.

It must be said that at this point in my life, I was already a voracious reader. Perhaps growing up in the country had something to do with it, or maybe my parents always having a book in their hands inspired me. Whatever the reason, I already loved books, but the only outlet I had for it was the school library, where there was a two-book maximum check-out rule and limited options. It could be hard to convince the school librarian that a second-grader could read a book in the fifth-grade section.

My cousin took me to the public library to help me get my library card. I don't remember the actual card much; in fact, my hometown was (and still is) pretty small, and once you became a regular, I'm not entirely certain you needed to show your card at all. Sally Smith knew her patrons well, and if you had an overdue book she let you know about it. She didn't need a card or a file system to tell her that.

Anyhow, back to that first day. I got the card and promptly went to the young reader's section. I selected ten books--ten! I remember this exactly!--and struggled to put them on the counter.
Sally Smith: You do realize, don't you Kelly, that you don't get to keep these books?
Kelly: Yes, ma'am.
Sally Smith: And you understand that they're due back here in two weeks? And that you have to pay money if they're late?
Kelly: Yes, ma'am.
Sally shook her head, pressed her lips into a line, and stamped each book. I'm sure she thought she would never see those books again. My cousin took me home where I settled in with my treasure.

I returned the books a week later. I remember this because I rode my bike to do it. My little, clunky, hand-me-down blue bike with tassels on the handlebars and a basket in the front. I had to carry the books that wouldn't fit into the basket. I must have looked odd: a chubby kid on a bike, basket full of books, left hand steering, right hand keeping the stack of books on my right thigh steady.
Kelly: I'd like to return these books.
Sally: (counting) You've read them all?
Kelly: (proud) Yes, ma'am.
Sally:Okay. You know where the rest are at.
I picked out ten more and checked them out. This time Sally smiled when she handed me the stack.

That summer, between softball practice and games, swimming at the pool, and playing outside with friends, I probably read over fifty books. It wasn't too many years before I graduated from the "young readers" section and moved to Agatha Christie, Phyllis Whitney, Asimov, and King. In the coming years, Sally and I became friends; one summer during high school I even worked at the library. She gave me a nice pair of earring as a college graduation gift. She's retired now, and I haven't kept up with her at all so I don't know what she's doing. I wonder if she will be surprised when I show up in town a few months from now, waving a copy of Pandora's Closet.


Innuendo said...


Bridget (& Jimmy) said...

Love that story!

Anonymous said...

I think she will be exceedingly proud of the little girl whose devotion to reading amazed all those years ago, and has turned into a devotion for words.

Nice, X. Enjoy that visit.