In today’s Amazon and Kindle/I-Pad world it is easy to forget the simple joys of holding a real book in your hands. When I was growing up we didn’t just rush off and buy books. We did read though. We went to the library. When I lived in a small town in MN, my friends and I spent endless hours at the library. We would walk to and from the library (unaccompanied by adults—how idyllic). The children’s librarian was named Miss Cathy. Miss Cathy knew us by name because we were there so often. At the time there was a check-out limit of 4 books. We would comb through the library and end up selecting way more than 4 books. Then we’d plop down at a table and read as much as we could before we had to head home. We would try to narrow down our selections to 4 books apiece. Oh, the agony of having to part with even one of the precious gems until the next visit. Every once in awhle we couldn’t narrow it down to less than 5 or 6. At those times, Miss Cathy would occasionally relent and let us check out extras. Other times she’d save them for us so we could check them out the next time.
On the way home we would (and here is the funny part) read the books aloud to each other…at the same time! I read many book series. Unlike many girls at the time, though, I was definitely NOT enamored with the various horse series–the Black Stallion series and Misty of Chiconteague, etc were not my cup of tea. Rather, I preferred series that involved families in poverty yet having glorious lives, people suffering nobly through illnesses, and imaginitive people glorying in small town life. What series of books did you love? Did you fall in love with reading as a result?
I loved the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, The Borrowers, The 5 Little Peppers series (remember Phronsie and the little oven doors?), The Little House Books, The All-of-a-Kind Family books. Little Women and all the others that Louisa May Alcott wrote, and of course, Karen, and Red Shoes for Nancy. Each of these series had characters that I fell in love with–and even imagined being. The Betsy-Tacy series takes place in MN. Betsy wanted to be a writer and entertained her friends Tacy and Tib with stories that she created. (Yep-she was my favorite). Little Women had Jo that wanted to be a writer (ditto…and btw I REALLY didn’t like Amy 😉 ). Loved all of these series. Revisited them over the years. These led me to biographies–of the writers and other people like them and/or from those times. That led me to history books…which led me to art and architecture. Reading this wide variety of books created layers of texture within me.
These books all moved my mind and heart to write. As my endless appetite for books grew, Miss Cathy gave me special permission to have access to check out books from the HS room even though I was only in 4th or 5th grade at the time. This was a special room at the Winona Public library. It was behind beautiful glass paneled doors and had big tables and armchairs in it. Wow was that a thrill! She made sure I challenged myself and didn’t just read junk. On occasion she’d recommend books to me — Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To Kill a Mockingbird are two that come to mind. Atticus Finch was my new hero. So noble and true! My librarian became a guiding force in her own special way.
The summer reading programs kept me busy writing synopses of the books I read. The summer between 4th and 5th grade I decided to write a children’s book. It was about a little girl named Monica and her summer escapades. Monica wore a miraculous medal and kept her mind on God rather than on “wrongful things”.
I wrote the book on special scratch pads that my dad gave me. I even illustrated the book. Then I wrote and illustrated a second copy. Why? I had decided I was going to bring the books to Miss Cathy so she could add them to the shelves for the children to check out. I even made 3 cards for the card catalog (Title, Author, and Subject) for each copy. I assumed that is how all books came to be at the library. I thought the authors of each book brought them to the library.
On my next trip to the library I gave the books to Miss Cathy and handed her the cards for the card catalog as well. What do you suppose she did?
She thanked me for the books. Then she immediately got out her supplies. She put tags on the bindings. She put pockets and check out cards inside each book. We went to the card catalog and she let ME put the cards in where she belonged. She put copy #2 on the shelf and she checked out copy #1 so she could be the first to read it. Now THAT is an awesome librarian. How life-affirming! I knew then and there that I would always write. Not only because there is so much I want to say. But also because when I write, others can read it — and perhaps it can move their hearts the way authors have moved my heart.
I continued to love and read and learn. In high school, the year I took US History, my class took a 3 day field trip to Washington D.C. Yes, I was in love with political science and knew I’d love seeing the government in action. However, the part that meant the most to me was the day we went to the Library of Congress. Our guide mentioned that EVERY book was there. EVERY book. Well, I wondered if my little book was there: So I said to her “every book?” She clarified….”Every published book”.
I vowed then and there that someday I would be published and be in the Library of Congress. I remember how the library looked, the sun dappled staircase and the shadows one wall. I remeber the springtime flowers blooming outside the library. I just remember that moment. Now I went on with my life, pursued my college degree and Master’s degree. I worked for numerous companies and volunteered many places. In the back of my mind, though, I held fast to my dream. A number of years later, I did publish a book (nonfiction) and it IS in the Library of Congress. Wow, that made me so happy. Again, not for the potential of being rich and famous; that didn’t happen. But it just made me feel so glad to know that my published book is there!
To this day I spend hours in libraries and bokstores reading. Every now and then I wander over to check in on Betsy, Jo, Phronsie, Laura Ingalls….my old friends…and I so want to thank those lovely authors, and of course Miss Cathy.
In this holiest of weeks I am thankful for the talents that God has instilled in each of us. When we use these gifts (whether it is the gift of writing, the gift of learning, the gift of sharing or the gift of loving to read) the world’s tapestry grows more beautiful. Good old Gutenberg did us a HUGE favor when he invented that printing press, didn’t he? Benjamin Franklin knew what he was doing when he estabished the first lending library. This puts the world at outr fingertips.
I hope that today’s blog post brought back fond memories of books that were special to you! I wish you special memories — and armloads of books.