I have loved words.
From the beginning.
As far back as my memory will take me. Aging diminishes recent moments, but enhances long ago in vivid sensory detail. Our library, back in the '50s, stood stoic and still. A formidable fortress of limestone chunks, stacked one atop the other, precursor to the Lego Land School Of Architecture. Perhaps, in another lifetime, it was a church. I say that because even on approach, voices hushed, paces slowed. A very long sidewalk led to the steep stairways, topped with wide slabs protruding like armrests on a not-so-easy chair. There, folks sat, bathed in sunlight, too eager to wait to get home to check out their checked out tomes. Nose to print, eyes to page, itching and inching into the wilderness of words.
Inside, a surprisingly cramped space. No whir of air conditioning. Silence. Even hard soled shoes dared only to whisper, to tiptoe. We were in the presence of greatness. The heavy wooden doors no child could huff and puff and blow down. Adults manned the fort. Young children did not enter without an adult escort. The tall metal shelving just a few steps from the entrance, rose floor to ceiling, a sliding ladder hung at each end.
Books. Lined in perfect order shoulder to shoulder and spine to spine. The adult section. No children allowed unless accompanied by an adult. Nothing salacious to see here, just nothing young eyes could readily absorb. On the bottommost shelves, coffee table books stuck out their tongues at passersby. Picture books of world wars, architectural magnificence, art reproductions, photography collections. Higher up, works of fiction and non-fiction. The key to the kingdom, a library card. The secret code to the table of contents, the card catalog.
A few steps to the left, the children's reading room. Carpeted. Tall wooden shelves lining every inch of every wall. A wooden cubical. The librarian's desk tucked into one corner. She never sat there, instead always afoot suggesting, defining a word, offering a dictionary amid shushed whispers and soft giggles.
No limit. No limit to the number of books I could take. Cash and carry. Whatever you could carry in your arms, you could borrow.
Words. Never enough. The shelves with the big books near the floor, the ones I needed. I needed one of those books. A tug on Mom's skirt and she would lean down, pull out one book at random, sight unseen, just for me. She would announce upon check out that the topic was of special interest to her, then gaze down at me, her true special interest.
We had no car. It was a long walk home. So we'd stop, for one page, one taste to savor on the journey.
The word that comes to mind when I recall that library,
and all of her relatives I came to know.
A candy store. Penny candy. One thin dime. One small bag. Hundreds of choices. Different tastes. Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter. Each a comfort in their own time, yet, a lingering worry over what I'd left behind.
Writers love words, but they love stories more. Great writers never run out of stories, they simply run out of time. Great writers never run out of steam. You know what I mean. Some books, by the end of the first chapter, merely cruise to the finish. Some may even hold up long enough for you to finish the laundry or make a sandwich.
The great books are savored. You cannot put them down, but you don't want the story to end. You try, you truly try, but you lose yourself. Get carried away. Somewhere out there. Somewhere in here. Somewhere you've never been, or maybe you have, the prose familiar and comfortable as old sneakers, edgy and frightening as a darkened tunnel, or so tender you weep, so personal you cringe, so like your own life, you laugh. No matter, you and the story are one, breathless, hopeful, nervous, wary, let down, anxious, hungry until the last chapter, the final sentence, the closing word. The period. The end.
Read. With someone. To someone. For someone.
You only need a library card...
and an open mind.