A Note About This Feature: Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about. I have completed series on the topics of running, creativity, and food. Now, I’m being a bit random and discussing whatever strikes me at the time!
I come across quite a few blog posts, memoirs, and other stories that reflect back on happy childhoods, filled with innocence, fun, and fond memories. If I’m going to be honest, my childhood wasn’t really like that. I wasn’t a happy kid. I was generally lonely and out of sorts. I never really felt comfortable with my peers, was often trying to escape gloominess within my home, was all around a bit awkward and entirely lacked confidence in social settings. Now, lest you think I’m sharing this to drudge up sympathy, that’s not the case. Rather, I’m setting the scene for you, you see. Because, though this was the reality of my childhood, it is not the whole picture. And, it is not the whole picture, because I had the library.
My grandparents lived right behind the library and this was probably the single best thing that could have happened for me as a kid. From a very young age, I would head over to my grandparent’s home after school, make a quick stop to drop off my schoolbooks, and then march out the back door, hurry through the back yard, hop over the wire fence, and find myself in the parking lot of the local library. In I went, eager and full of anticipation for the time I would get to spend there. Forget Disneyland, the library was my happiest place on Earth.
My library had a kid’s area with a sunken floor that was carpeted with game boards. There was a giant hop scotch laid out, a checkerboard, even chess if you were that adventurous. My library had tables just perfectly made for leaning over, with my eyes intently flying past words on pages. My library had a magazine area with shelves of magazines covering news, politics, fashion, and entertainment all wrapped around a fireplace and a sofa. My library had an atrium that was lined with plants and shrubbery and let the bright Arizona sun shine in on you, without also bringing the heat of being outdoors. My library had shelves and shelves of books that offered me endless opportunities to feed my busy little head with images and stories and information that I devoured. And, my library had Cheryl, the librarian, who knew me by name and welcomed me as an honorary young librarian.
It was extraordinary.
I spent hours there. I read everything. I read fiction and non-fiction. I read all the books for kids, but when it became apparent that my reading level and comprehension were advancing rapidly, Cheryl recommended books for older kids, young adults, and adults. I read those, too. I got lost in pages of worlds, both real and imaginary, and used them as fuel for my creative fire. I wrote stories of my own – some which lived only in my head and some which manifested on paper. Not caring yet that I was a terrible artist, I drew pictures to illustrate the stories I read and wrote. I let my vivid imagination run wild with ideas of what the world would be like when I grew up. I could live in any of the amazing places I had read about (New York, London, California, Amsterdam). I went on grand adventures with Charlie Bucket, learned compassion with Shel Silverstein, survived grade school with Ramona Quimby, made sense of high school with the Wakefield twins, fantastized about love with Danielle Steele, and learned to think abstractly with Vonnegut at my side.
Whether Cheryl the librarian responded to my apparent loneliness, to my ever-growing precociousness, or both, I’m not sure, but she let me at the whole place like it was my own. When the return bin was full of books, she swung open the half door, letting me come behind the counter where I picked up one book after another, running it’s spine along the machine until it bumped up against the edge, in order to activate the security sensors. I loved the sound of this process. Sliiiiidddde, Thump. Sliiiiidddde, Thump. She let me wheel carts of books out to the floor and put them away on the shelves alongside her, lining up the spines straight and even as we went. She gave me old copies of magazines when their time was up. I carted them home where I lingered over the glossy images and studied how to write copy, imagining myself in the future as an editor, rushing to meet deadlines.
When summer came around, she invited me over to the annex where I helped her put together props and prizes for the youth summer reading program. She asked my not-so-sage advice on which games to play and what theme to feature each year. I prepped for the event and had such pride when other kids came to the program and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.
I always felt safe there. I always felt at home. I always felt a sense of belonging that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. And I firmly believe that it is because of my experiences there, my discovery of the power of words on paper, that I developed my own creative streak. The joy I find in a good book, in transferring my thoughts to written words, in painting images in my mind, was born in my time at this library. As I’ve grown up, I still feel a sense of wonderment each time I’m in a library. It’s easy for me to connect to the fact that in a relatively small, enclosed space, there exists millions of lives and stories, centuries worth of history and an abundance of prospects for the future. I watched television and I played video games like other kids, but it was the library that taught me how to dream, how to imagine, and how to be at peace with myself (surrounded by books).
Last year, in the city that I live in now, my libraries were threatened. Apparently, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t see the value in directing tax dollars to such a ‘luxury’. Fortunately, Portlanders spoke up and voted to support our local library system. Through news stories and personal accounts, I know that libraries are starting to be seen by some as a relic. In the age of e-readers, Wi-Fi, and digital downloads, brick and mortar libraries with shelves and shelves of books may seem cumbersome. But, for this reader and writer, they are comfort, creativity, and contentment personified. They’re my oldest friends and my strongest inspiration.
A Sampling of Prior ‘Why Wednesday’ Posts: