|This is not the old library (which was not in the building on the left, but one that looked a lot like it) but rather the Pythian Castle, one of the more interesting buildings in downtown Weiser, Idaho. I hope it's still there!|
I always went alone, without parent, without friends,
and no one questioned or bothered me.
I never asked the librarian for help, just wandered
until I found something and then checked it out.
The rule was two books at a time, for two weeks,
with a penny a day late fine, though that soon doubled.
The librarian wore her salt-and-pepper hair
in a bun with a pencil stuck in it, which
she took out from time to time to write with.
I never saw her stand up, so I always
imagined she was child-sized, like me, but thicker.
Over time, she got smaller. At first she looked
straight across into my eyes, but by high school
she had to peer up over the tops of her glasses.
There was a card catalogue, of course, a small one,
small wooden drawers filled with small cards,
small like the library itself in our small town.
I don't remember using it. I was more of a grazer then
than a focused searcher. Despite its limitations,
the library's somewhat random collection did
include all the Oz books, even the one
where Dorothy's captured by a princess
who wants to add her head to the collection
she keeps in a closet, deciding which to wear
on a particular day
according to whim, or maybe the weather.
I chose my reading matter on whim as well,
wandering through the children's and adult
sections equally, with no guidance whatsoever.
One week it might be Harry Black hunting his tiger,
another the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare.
I would have enjoyed that even more if I'd known
Charles Lamb's sister and co-author killed their mother.
At twelve I devoured everything there by Daphne
du Maurier, then regressed to Tales of a Chinese Grandmother,
followed by other tales by other grandmothers -
Korean, Russian, Swiss, Turkish, Basque -
before plunging into bodice-rippers about the Tudors.
I read Peyton Place before my mother did
and told her with eleven-year-old gravity
that I didn't think it was suitable for her.
The last time I went to that library
I was a senior in high school, looking
for a topic for a book report for government class.
Mrs. D, a pillar of the local John Birch Society,
had suggested something by J. Edgar Hoover.
But since she'd been denouncing Marx the way
a preacher might denounce the devil, I thought
I'd check him out. I found him in the library,
at the end of the shelf with dust in his beard.
He'd arrived in 1935 and no one
had taken him out since. I set him on the librarian's desk.
She frowned up at me over her glasses, took
the pencil out of her hair, and said,
"I'll have to call your mother." As she held
the receiver to her ear, her lips pursed and tightened.
She date-stamped the two cards,
mine and the one in the book, and handed it to me
without another word.
- Victoria Stefani