Saturday, September 11, 2004


Just after we visited the Catholic school to file an application for H.'s enrollment, we stopped at the public libary which is a couple of blocks from the school. We figured we might as well check it out and get library cards, since if H. attended school in the neighborhood, he'd more than likely be spending some time at the library after school while waiting for me to get off work. It was the first time we'd even been inside our tiny library downtown.

I'm typically a heavy library user, but when I first called the local library to inquire about getting a card, I was told I'd have to list two local residents as "co-signers." (What?!?) This place is the oddest mix of lawlessness (or skirting the law to operate underground) and invasiveness that I've ever experienced. Many of the local rules and regulations seem too invasive by mainland standards, so I typically just say screw it. But the memory of that call was far from my mind during our recent visit. We were there for two reasons: to get library cards and to get some materials to help H. brush up on his fundamentals in preparation for his next placement test (which he never took, of course). We got our cards and for co-signers (needed only for the adult cards), we listed each other and my employer. It's not like we're going to have any overdue books. (I'm a very conscientious library patron.)

Portland had me really spoiled with its fabulous public library system. Several years ago, the city remodeled its main library downtown, and it's lovely. It's the only library I've been to with a Starbucks inside. I know, I was originally appalled at the idea, too. But once you get used to strolling around the library on a dark, rainy afternoon with a steaming hot latte in your hand, well, it's all good. The main library had express checkout machines where you could scan the books yourself and be on your merry way with your printed receipt.

The library here is a throwback. They do have their catalog computerized and there are a handful of computers available for patron use. But there's no computer-generated receipt. They date-stamp the checkout card inside the book the old-fashioned way. It's been a long time since I've had my library books checked out that way, and it brought back some memories.

I went to a Catholic elementary school--eight long years of being taught by nuns. Truthfully, it was a great experience, even though I hated it at the time. :) At the end of the school year, the nun would give us a mimeographed handout (yes, youngsters, this was pre-copiers) with a picture or drawing on it. It might be someone holding a large bunch of balloons or an apple tree laden with tons of apples. That handout was supposed to motivate us to read over the summer. And what do you know? It did. It seems comical to me now, because it was all done on the honor system. But we were such little goody-goodies that I suppose it wouldn't have occurred to most of us to cheat. (When you're forced to go to confession once a week, the idea of confessing to cheating doesn't seem appealing.) The idea was to color in one of the balloons or apples every time you finished reading a book. I don't remember even having to list the titles. We just turned in our handouts at the beginning of the next year and whoever had read the most books got a prize.

My cousin D. and I were always the smartest kids in our class. I'm not bragging, just letting you know that the nuns at our school didn't believe in letting kids skip grades, so we were usually pretty bored. But D. was actually a good student. She probably comprehended what she read. I had virtually no study skills, nor did I want any (since I hated school). I would just skim the books and materials enough to glean whatever I thought might pop up on a test...and then promptly forget most of it. So I knew at the beginning of each summer that D. would be my only competition for that book-reading prize. But I not only didn't possess any study skills, I was also severely lacking in discipline. I'd start off the summer feeling all gung-ho about reading, but would eventually lose interest and figure she might read more anyway, so why bother? And honestly, I didn't give a rat's ass about reading. In fact, I hated reading until I was in the my 30's. It was really all about the prize (and about beating D.), but I just didn't want it enough to have to do the work to get it. (And I may have even won one or two.) I can't recall now what any of the prizes were, but I'm sure they'd seem pathetic by today's standards. I also can't recall any of the books I read over any of those summers. (Seriously, there was only negligible comprehension going on.) But I do recall this...

Walking to the library on sunny, windy summer days (the wind always blew--it was a coastal town) and spending a lot of time dawdling among the stacks. It took decades for my love of reading to catch up with my love of libraries. I always loved being among the books--I just had to get to a place in my head (and heart) where I could quiet my mind enough to actually allow myself to escape into them. And now reading is one of my primary releases and escapes. I have fond memories of standing at the checkout counter while the librarian date-stamped those manila cards glued inside the books, and of walking home through the ball field with an armful of books.

I went to my local library on my lunch hour the other day. I returned most of the books we had checked out a couple of weeks ago, and then I spent some time doing something that used to be one of my favorite things to do during my Portland years--walking among the stacks with my head turned sideways, reading titles and looking for something that might catch my eye. Ours is a very small library, so they don't have much to choose from, but I did find a few things. And as I stood at the counter, I felt the same satisfaction I felt all those decades ago when the librarian date-stamped the checkout cards in the books. I gathered up my finds, put them in my straw tote, walked downstairs and out into the hot summer afternoon. It was like I was ten again...but this time, I know how to enjoy it.
This image is for Kat. (We really will be drinkin' margaritas by the sea it!) :)

At Bolongo Bay here, there's a palm-tree studded beach lined with bright yellow chaises and dotted with little wooden drink stands topped by these thatched umbrellas. This was taken a couple of weeks ago as I lounged on one of those chaises...and thought what a lucky (and loved) girl I am. Posted by Hello


Blogger Katherine said...

ahhhhhh :) I soo sooo sooo believe you :) The verbal image was faboo - but i couldn't get the pic itself to load - anything I'm doing wrong? :) K

5:08 PM  

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