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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The View From Here

I am six years old and my mother has driven me to the brick and stain-glassed building that serves as our local library to sign up for a library card. Giggling, I stand at the circulation desk, shifting from one foot to the other in my pleated, catholic-school uniform, toothpick thin legs swathed in navy knee socks that wrinkle where my ankles meet red leather oxfords. Conveyance of a library card means a manual process and a two week wait, but I’m allowed to take out my first book—a green cloth covered picture book with a title that starts with the name “Kiki.” Even though I have a book to read, for the next several days I stalk the mailman as he slips letters into the black metal box nailed beside our back door looking for the card which finally appears as a blue and white piece of plastic, with my name printed in raised letters. The card introduces opportunity; in second grade I discover passion.

I am seven years old, tucked into a corner between two bookcases at the Hunnewell School Library, oblivious to my peers or the commanding girth of the teacher, Mrs. Waltermeyer, during our weekly library period. The open book in front of me sits on a waist high counter, warm sunlight streams in the window onto the pages though I’m unaware; for the first time I have drifted away from my physical self and traveled on words to a separate landscape. Who knows how long I actually stand there reading—but finally I look up and gasp. My class is gone. Other than the librarian, the room is empty; immediately my stomach hammers a Bo Jangles tap dance. New to public school, new to the rules, I’m already aware that being anywhere without permission is forbidden. The booming voice, the unrelenting adherence to code that is Mrs. Waltermeyer flat out scares me and I can’t fathom the punishment for returning to class late. Slightly nauseous, I approach the librarian and sign out the book, then sprint on tiptoes down the polished linoleum to my classroom, trembling as I slowly open the half glass door in expectation of the wrath that is eminent. As I slink toward my desk it is snack time—cardboard cartons of milk and cellophane wrapped packages of saltine crackers have been handed out; I slip into my seat and no one notices.

I am a tween, a teen and a young adult and I stroll through the dappled light of the meandering brook path, over the log railed wooden bridge, across dusty elementary school playing fields to the library, where more often then not, after selecting my books I locate an vinyl cushioned chair in a remote corner and curl my legs under me to spend the afternoon reading. On more than one summer Sunday I stomp my feet in exasperation when I have neglected to recall the seasonal hours, and arrived at the library to discover it dark and locked tight.

I am grown up and then some and our town library, carved out of a portion of an ancient grammar school is smaller than the library of my home town, though it offers the same comfort. Book stacks are surrounded by cool green walls and a red and green oriental patterned carpet. Maple tables and waist high bookshelves line the middle of the room, murmuring voices blend with fingers that tap on public computers and laptops, the floor squeaks each time a patron walks by. In the background the electronic check-out system beeps over the baritone voice of one of the librarians as he speaks on the phone.

Forget a tropical island. If I had to be stuck anywhere for the rest of my life it could be here, perched on this orange and green geometric upholstered chair. Warm sun streams through a palladium window and the muted sound of the commuter rail rackets on the tracks next door. My feet are up on the matching ottoman and the book I am reading is braced on my lap. Looking up, I sigh--forever content with this location; the rewards of this place that I found at such a young stage in my life.


cthompson said...

Funny, I found myself in my library today too. Must be in the genes.

Paula Villanova said...

When my kids were growing up, we made a minimum of one trip per week to the library. I loved the kids' room in our old library and they seemed to love it too. In this electronic age though, I find if I want to browse books...I head to Barnes and Noble and yet the funny thing is, we still have a great library. The M.F.A. and I.C.A. seem to provide for me the kind of nourishment the library still provides for you and I visit them fairly regularly. Your place of choice is a lot more convenient though!

Liza said...

If I were to be stuck for my entire life, perhaps I'd be smarter to choose the BPL!