Books, books, books…
My first visit to the public library is lost in the mists of my infancy. Doubtless, knowing my mother and her great love for books, it occurred within the first few months of my life. Certainly, it was well within the first two years. I don’t remember the walks, but Mother tells of putting my baby sister in a buggy, my brother carefully sharing the space with her, as I walked at their side to the library. Books were always under the Christmas tree and included in birthday gifts.
It was no surprise to my parents when, at four years of age, I learned to read. Mother had been reading to me at an age, like the library visit, lost in those early mists. She would have her children sit on the opposite side of the ironing board and hold the book so she could read to us and iron at the same time. This she did until all her seven children could read for themselves.
The first book I remember reading, really reading myself, was a Little Golden Book, Chip and Dales’ Toy Train, featuring not only the chipmunks, but Donald Duck. Grandpa and Grandma Ohlin were visiting us. We lived just more than a mile away, so we often were together. I announced, “Grandpa, I can read.” “No, Sylvia, you have the book memorized.”
Indignantly, I ran to the kitchen, crying, “Mommy, Grandpa says I don’t know how to read.” Her response burned itself into my memory. “Daddy, she can read. Point to any word in the book and she will read it to you.” I remember reading at least part of the book to my grandpa that day.
My first memory of the library isn’t until about third or fourth grade. Our home was in the “country,” lots of a few acres where once farms had been. Across the street, an enterprising developer saw the potential of the area, and built a small subdivision. Connie and her family moved into one of the homes. Connie was a year older than me, and we became friends. She introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries. I couldn’t wait to go to the library and check out some for myself.
Mom told me how to find them in the library, and I walked straight to the section where books by Carolyn Keene should be. Nothing. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find any of the coveted Nancy Drew books. Disappointed, I told Mom they didn’t have any. She suggested I ask the librarian and pointed out that very special individual. The librarian smiled at my question, opened her desk drawer, and revealed a “stash” of the books. She explained I could only check out two books so there would be some for other children to borrow. She also explained the concept of “late” in regard to library books and asked if I would be able to read two books in the time allowed. I believe it a two week checkout. Two weeks? I could read those in a few days! That drawer became my target each time we visited the library.
If we ran out of library books to read, Mom and Dad had purchased a set of encyclopedias, the Book of Knowledge set, and many other books, all neatly arranged in a floor to ceiling bookcase. A veritable treasure house, just down the stairs from my bedroom.
We moved when I was fourteen years old, and to my joy, we lived right at a stop for the Bookmobile. A Bookmobile looked a lot like a little school bus, with two doors. The entrance was by the driver’s seat, and the length was lined with bookcases, filled with books. There wasn’t a great variety, but I always found something I wanted to read. I would walk the length of those shelves, choosing my books, then check out at the back. Down a couple of steps, up the sidewalk, into my room, where my bed was waiting for me to curl up and READ! If I requested a certain book, the librarians would try to find a copy and bring it to me. This was “book heaven.” Those wonderful women on that little mobile library became unseen friends two years later, when a serious illness confined me to bed for five months. Each week, Mom would bring a stack of books to my bedroom, where I devoured them. Often, included in the stack would be books the librarians had chosen especially for me.
During that time, I also received a special bag of books, chosen and delivered by my Aunt Ethel, a journalist on the local weekly newspaper. Among the treasures were books that became most beloved. The Yearling, Random Harvest, Freckles, and Girl of the Limberlost became a part of me during those months. I also remember reading, for the second time, that wonderful story, Tale of Two Cities. At times, Marilyn and Maurine, my youngest sisters who were twins, would come on the bed and I would read to them. My bishop and his wife gave me a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, so I would have something new to read each week. What an exciting day that was each week as the world appeared in my bedroom.
The years passed, and each time I moved, the library was one of the first buildings I would locate. I worked in the high school library as a service club member. In college, I not only studied, but explored the literature provided in a university library. A move to Oregon resulted in a library just down the street. Seventeen months later, when my mother came to help at the birth of our first child, she walked down the street and brought back several Mary Stewart books, introducing me to yet another author I would enjoy. Libraries in Kennewick, Washington, then Bellevue, Washington, became another home. Now, I was taking my own children with me. Meeting the librarians in the first month of life was a rite of passage. A library card became a fifth birthday tradition. My youngest daughter still treasures her card, her first name carefully printed on the card. My children know the number on their card, and have refused to “upgrade” to the much fancier cards now available, because that would mean learning a new number. Without your number, no electronic requests!
With the expansion of technology, and the busyness of teaching school, I have found new and fun ways to read. Ebooks allow me to take a library on a trip, fitting neatly into my “personal item” on an airplane Books on CD accompany me on my drive to and from the school, to the shopping center, and to church on Sundays. Audiobooks on my computer have replaced the TV as entertainment as I sew, fold laundry, and dress for the day. Once again, someone else reads favorites to me. My love of reading has brought me full circle. Where once my mother read childrens books to me, talented readers now read favorites, bringing to life the characters, just as my mother did many years ago.
Oh, paper books have not disappeared from my life. Electronic catalogs make it possible to request a book from my county library system (advertised as “biggest and best in the nation”), and, a few days later, drop into the nearest branch library to pick it up. Even better, I can walk the mile to a recently completed branch library and pick up my books. What a deal! Exercise and books, at the same time!
And, on my book shelves are great treasures. Little Women, given to my mother for Christmas when she was 9 years old by her sister, Amber, then given to me ten years ago. I read it at the same time my friend, Gaylyn, next door, read it. (Sixth grade was a very good year for books.) The first chapter book I read, Heidi, was also my mother’s book. A Children’s Friend Storybook, the last gift from Grandma Ohlin, is dated 3/17/1952.
From Chip and Dale to Dickens, Keene to Stevenson, Shakespeare and Dickens to Principles of Immunology, Hawthorne to Rowling, Twain to Organic Chemistry, Buck to Foundations of Education, and always, always, the word of the Lord as found in the scriptures… books…my friends…gateway to the world.
Now, I am looking for a book the library doesn’t have…Amazon, here I come.
P.S. Any recommendations? I’m always looking for books to add to my “reading wish list!”