I remember two libraries from my childhood. The first was our local library. It was a small town so it was a small one room library, a branch of the library from a larger city nearby. That one room, opened the year I turned seven (1968), was roughly 12 by 20 feet contained old wood shelving that soared over my head. The shelves were shiny with varnish and worn smooth from years of books leaving and returning. I wondered if the books came back and discussed the families they’d been to visit.
There were just two shelves I was allowed to draw from. Two shelves for my age. Two thirty inch long spaces with hardcover books that contained the potential to take me to other places, other countries, other worlds. When I was older, there were more shelves for me. I quickly read through all that was available to me. Then I read them again. And again. There was always something more to discover in the words, the language, the imagery. This must be where my acceptance of reruns on television arose. Just as I read and reread books, I will watch and watch again movies and shows that catch my attention. The characters become friends, family, company. The locations become familiar as if from actual memories of having been there.
I can still feel the dusty road underneath my bare feet from a story I read as a child. I can still smell the fried chicken and biscuits from fairground festivities in another. I can hear the winding down of the music from an orchestra as we wandered home in the dark in another. I read the books available to me so many times that I lived them. The memories of the characters in those books are my memories.
I lived on My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, struggling through that harsh first winter of learning how to adapt to not only the cold, but the hunger and the loneliness. I rubbed my fingers raw on the abalone shells on The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I laughed and worried when Mrs. Coverlet went away and left the Percival children alone – oh the antics they and their tortoise shell cat got up to. I solved many mysteries with the Boxcar Children and the Happy Hollisters and some with Nancy Drew, but she just didn’t appeal to me as much as others. Things came to her too easily. I didn’t respect that.
I sprouted wings in Black and Blue Magic and learned what my strengths were. You have to grow into your strengths you know. Sometimes it requires that you fall down wish a painful crash. And get back up. And fly.
When I was about ten, the little one room library doubled in size. They’d built on an entire room just for the children’s section. That was like the most amazing gift ever. Every shelf was mine, all mine. It was like visiting old friends. I would even spend a moment or two making sure some of the ones that were too young for me were still there. Just checking in on them before checking out a stack of new things to read and some repeats.
As I grew up, there was a need for a library with books I could use for homework in addition to recreational reading. What the heck is that anyway? Recreational reading- all reading is knowledge and exploration and growth. It just seems that to call it recreational is to cheapen it. A larger library in the small city next to our town was our next regular stop. Other than its size there was one major difference. The librarians there were frightening. Children there clearly should be seen and not heard even in the children’s department on the second floor. I would have to contain any excitement or joy for fear I would be banished. This was not what I was used to.
On the first floor was the adult section and a reading area where adults sat like statues reading current magazine issues and local newspapers. The shelving was metal and far too easy to accidentally make noise if books fell over while I was gingerly trying to pull out the one I wanted. It had a basement where squirrelled away were all the old items, back issues of magazines bound into large heavy books, newspapers on microfilm and other research items that all required special supervision. Even though secluded, talking was low and at a minimum down there.
Old school library behavior required. No one wanted to attract the attention of the librarians. No one wanted to be shushed. Everyone would look. To keep a book overdue required an apology and a nickel. After all you kept that book from someone else who might have wanted to read it also. Going there was formal, less fun. But there were so many more books to disappear into. I was thankful for that. And the smell was the same – that wonderful smell of cloth bound, well loved, many times read books.
In addition to the two libraries was another very special place – a tiny used bookstore called the Book Nook. There shelves were unfinished, raw and sometimes splintered wood. But who cared – it was about the books. Used books lined every available inch of space, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. The best part was I could buy them and bring the books home and keep them! Or exchange them back later. Once a month they had a day where you could fill a bag with paperbacks for a buck. A paper grocery bag – they were bigger in those days then they are now. Better than Christmas that was. I still have some of those books.
That first library moved into a shiny new open concept space of its own just after I graduated from College in 1984. My mother had been part of the “friends” group that staged fund raisers and ice cream socials year after year to make that happen. I never felt as drawn to the new building as I did that original little single room. It wasn’t as warm and welcoming as that first space, my introduction to reading, was. The old building became first rented to accountants, then a lawyer, then was torn down. It was, after all, prime real estate in what had over time become a small bustling city instead of a town. It was sort of hallowed ground to me. Like moving a cemetery, it seemed wrong to me to tear it down, destroy a monument to something so beautiful as reading. It was an ugly little plain cinderblock building with space to park maybe three cars, my monument to reading.
I lived there and still do in every story I have read and have yet to read. I should frequent my local library now more than I do.
#shoutaboutbooks #readingisfun #readtome #readaloud #memories