For the Love of Books
I have lived in Milford all my life. It is a small town about two hours northwest of New York City. One of my favorite things about it is the library. Corny, I know, but it has long been my favorite place to spend time. Our library has a lot going for it from the children’s room upstairs to the perpetual used book sale in the basement.
My mother worked at the library when she was a high school student and when I got to high school myself, so did I. But the story I want to tell happened much earlier than that. Geeky as it sounds, one of my favorite activities when I was growing up was the Summer Reading Program. Every year you got a booklet to write about each of the books you read and there was always a great mixture of books to read. I was always the first to sign up. The last year that I participated was the best, and it wasn’t entirely because of the books. It was because of—well, let me start at the beginning; I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
The children’s books were downstairs when I was a kid, connected to the main area of the library where adults checked out books by a doorway with no door. There were two sections to the children’s room, the main room and a much smaller room in the back where there was a doll house, Lincoln Logs to build with, and one bookcase completely filled with biographies.
The rules for the reading program dictated that you had to read a certain number of several types of books, and I was looking for a biography. I had read most of the biographies and was having trouble picking out a new one. I stood there, running one finger alone the spines of the books, when I heard a voice say, “Try the one about Clara Barton.”
“Thanks.” I turned around but my smile faded when I realized that I was alone.
The voice belonged to a woman and sounded vaguely familiar. I looked out into the main room but it was also empty. I found the Children’s Librarian at the main desk. When she came back to the children’s room to check out my books, I expected her to comment on the Clara Barton book but she didn’t say a word.
“I got the Cara Barton book like you suggested,” I prompted her.
“I didn’t suggest any books to you dear,” said the woman.
As soon as I heard her voice, I knew she hadn’t. Her voice was nothing like the one I had heard. I went home with my books and didn’t think much about it until two weeks later when I had to go back at the library. It was a hot day but the library was cool and quiet. I dropped my returns on the counter and strolled along the stacks, thumbing through the books trying to find something new and interesting.
“Have you read A Wrinkle in Time?” asked a familiar voice.
This time when I turned around, I saw a woman I hadn’t seen at the library before. She was short and a bit on the plump side. She wore a simple dress and low-heeled white sandals. She made me think of the women in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” Of course, back in the 60s when this happened, people still dressed up to go to work so it didn’t occur to me that it was strange in any way.
“Of course I read it. Why?”
Hers was clearly the voice I had heard on my last visit. She frowned and I thought I was about to get a lecture for making too much noise. Then she smiled at me, and I liked her immediately. “Well,” she said, “if you liked that book, you’ll love this one too.” She pointed out a book called, A Wind in the Door.
I picked it up and saw that it was a sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. I opened it and read the description.
“Thanks,” I said and tucked it under my arm so I could pick out a few more books.
She must have wandered away while I was looking because when I took my books to the check out counter, she was gone.
While I was waiting to have my books stamped, I noticed that there were pictures of several women on the wall behind the desk.
“That’s the woman who has been suggesting books for me,” I said.
“Mrs. Gardner? Impossible. She was the librarian here over thirty years ago. She passed away in the stacks,” she pointed to the back room, at the bookcase where they stored the biographies, and finished, “right over there.”