Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paradise Found

Well, unfortunately, I missed posting last week.

It was kind of crazy, with a lot of out of town travel, and beyond that, I didn't know what to write about.

The two things at the front of my mind lately have been the devastating but beautiful book I've been reading, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (I was
relieved to read one reviewer confess that she too had been revisiting the characters in her dreams every night while reading it) and Ireland voting to legalize same-sex marriage (the #hometovote pictures and posts were extraordinarily heartwarming and moving). Interesting, yes, but nothing I felt like writing about.
Then I attended the big fundraiser luncheon for my local library.
It's a lovely event- really a "see and be seen" of philanthropists and fundraisers and best yet, library lovers. As part of their "21st Century Library Campaign," the Library Foundation has been encouraging library storytellers, people who are willing to share their thoughts and anecdotes about why public libraries are so important to them.

I promised I'd write my library story but I've been a big procrastinator; since I was so inspired at the library luncheon today, I thought I'd write it here.

We moved to Canisteo, NY when I was about five. We had a red brick house that I loved for a variety of reasons- the apple tree in the backyard that could not have been more perfect for climbing, the playroom just off the dining room, the ferns that grew in the side yard next to the storm cellar door, just like Dorothy had in Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. But the best part about our house on Russell Street, which I didn't know at first, was that it was around the corner from the library.

Our little town library, the Wimodaughsian (named after the Wives, Mothers & Daughters of the Civil War, or maybe it was the Revolution, I can't quite remember and I haven't been able to verify this anywhere online) was founded in 1897 and located in a big old creaky white house. There were stairs that led upstairs to a second story where no one was allowed, dark patterned wallpaper in the foyer, and the adult section had an ancient marble fireplace. There were little rooms and halls off rooms, crammed with bookshelves teeming with books. The children's department was a small open room off the circulation desk area with a table and chairs, a beanbag or two. Beyond the children's department was a room filled with glass cases housing various taxidermied birds, a collection both fascinating and frightening, as well confusing (why was there a
room full of dead birds at the library?)

My mom, who passed along her love of reading to me, took me to get our library cards not long after we'd settled in. I remember with a children's card you could check out a maximum of seven books at a time, and only from the children's department. I was in absolute, besotted heaven. I'd totter home, devour my books and be ready for more within a day or two, pestering my mom to make another trip back to the Wimodaughsian. My diligence and voraciousness caught the attention of the librarian, Lu Mlott.

Mrs. Mlott was not a coddler. You had to earn her respect and trust when it came to her library. She expected you to care for her library's books with the same devotion and reverence she had for them. I remember how grave and serious she was when she told me that I had permission to check out any book in the library I wanted; I was free to browse the adult titles in the room with the long-dormant fireplace. I was officially given an adult library card at age seven.

It made such an enormous impression on me that I can still remember it happening- Mrs. Mlott leaning over to carefully look me in the eye as she bestowed this privilege and responsibility on me. I will always treasure that gesture because it was one of the first times I was treated as a fellow or peer, and not just a child. I was a reader, and in Mrs. Mlott's estimation, that made us members of the same tribe.

Eventually, I was allowed to go to the library by myself, cutting through backyards instead of taking the long way on the sidewalk up Orchard Street and onto Main.The library became my sanctuary, my safe place, the "happy place" we're instructed to visit in our minds when we're stressed or scared or upset.

I was convinced for years that libraries pumped anti-anxiety meds into the recirculated air. One foot inside a library and I'd instantly feel better. No matter what was happening in my life, a few moments in a library (and it applies to all I've known) and I'd feel like everything would be okay. Maybe there's some kind of chemical that ink and paper and binding glue give off when combined; perhaps all those books living in one space act together on brain chemistry to soothe and satiate.

Holly Golightly got it wrong. It's not Tiffany's that helps chase away the mean reds; it's libraries. Her line about how she felt at the jewelry store so perfectly describes libraries for me: "the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there."

When Holly (or LulaMae) got the mean reds (not the blues, mind you- "The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of"), the only thing that did her any good was to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's.

I go to the library.

PS- And speaking of books, I'm seeing Judy Blume in one week!! Eeeeeee!!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Similar story for me, going with mom to the library when i was TINY, and like a good nerd, throughout childhood...I remember being around 2-3 and trying to check out books on my own and the kindly librarian explaing to me I needed to find my mom and her card :) I am still buried in books daily. Great post Kerry! And yes, ireland gave the world a nice surprise last week!