notquiteold

Gracefully Aging – With Resistance

The World’s Best Invention

When I wrote last month about the jewelry box my mother bought for me when I was twelve, several people located the box for sale on the web (the same place I found the photo) and suggested I buy it again. For the memory of it. But I don’t need to buy someone else’s similar box to sweeten that memory.The memory is sweet enough.

Of course, some people were shocked that I ever let it go. My husband for one. He could not see why I would give away something that had so much meaning to me. But the meaning was still there even if the box was gone. And I wanted my niece to open that little piano-shaped box and hear “Fascination.” It didn’t matter if her pleasure was short-lived, if she enjoyed it for a while and then forgot it, or broke it, or threw the box away. That box was a joy to me that I wanted to share, even for just a little while.

My husband has lots of his old toys in our cellar. He wanted to keep his crib and mattress too. I had a difficult time convincing him that his childhood is not a shrine. I don’t think I ever completely succeeded.

But you know what I wish I kept?

My library card.

It looked sort of like this:

library cardrev

I added the blue color. My card was blue.

At the Bristol Public Library, you could get your own library card when you were seven, with the only other requirement being that you had to write your own name on the card. No printing – you had to write cursive – as a sign of your maturity I guess. So I practiced for a few weeks before my seventh birthday. And I could do it. Here’s my nine-year-old signature inside my prayer book:

missal

After two more years of practice. And not how you spell Bristol. And I still have no idea what I was supposed to write on the left hand page.

It was a good thing I wasn’t Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. I got my card.

(As an aside, my mother just this week laughingly said she rued the day that my sister ever learned to sign her name. She signed up for everything. She once signed up for the city-wide tennis tournament. Only she had never played tennis.)

How I loved the library! My mother told me that the Public Library was best thing the world had ever invented. You can take home anything you want to read, and in a few weeks, bring it back, and read anything else you want to read. For FREE. Can you imagine that?

I went to the library every week. They let me take six books at a time. I would read one book there, and then take six home. So that way I got seven. I thought this was very clever – and sneaky – of me.

I liked books about girls. Animals were okay. No boys.

My favorite girl was Madeline. My favorite animal was Ferdinand. No favorite boys.

As I got a little older, and pictures became less important (but I still like a great illustration, as you know, if you have seen most of my previous posts), I still wanted girly-girl stories. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Pollyanna, Heidi. Nothing is quite as wonderful as a destitute and mistreated orphan.

When I was really small, the Children’s section of the Bristol Library was in the basement of the old building.

brlibrary

Bristol Public Library. A beautiful building. And it’s full of books. You can’t get much better than that.

The Children’s Library had a separate entrance on the side of the building that took you down into the rather dark small room. But sometime in my mid-childhood, the Library built an addition.

The new Children’s Library still had its own entrance, and there was a passageway (a very forbidden passageway) that connected the Adult Library to the Children’s Library.

The new addition was big and light with aisles full of shelves. And a separate section for pre-schoolers, so us big kids who wrote cursive didn’t have to even go near the baby books.

And there was a small section of Young Adult reading. There wasn’t really a YA genre back then. So these shelves held mostly Classics. I had no use for Treasure Island or Great Expectations, since they were all about stupid boys. But in my meandering through this section I stumbled upon: The Book That Made Me An English Major.

It was Jane Eyre. I was ten years old. I wasn’t allowed to check out a book from the Young Adult section until I was twelve. But I would sit on the floor, hidden by the bookshelves, and read the first chapter. It was hard going for ten. I read the first few pages over and over again.  And when I was eleven, the librarian bent the rules and let me take the book home. It took me a month to read Jane Eyre. And I didn’t understand most of it. But I understood Romance when I saw it. And I liked it.

I re-read Jane Eyre in high school. And in college, I made Jane the subject of a term paper. By that time I saw more than simple romance. I saw how subversive this book actually was. With the mores of the day, Bronte could hardly have Jane marry an already-married man – so Bertha had to die. However, Jane returned to Rochester not knowing that Bertha was dead. It does seem that she was prepared to live in sin with a married man, while his crazy wife was locked in the attic. Oh yes. I understood Romance. And I liked it.

Back when I was eleven though, my own romance was with books. And that amazing librarian who let me borrow Jane Eyre a year early did another fantastic thing. She told me I could borrow from the Adult library, as long as I first showed her the books I wanted.

And I walked through that forbidden passageway.

atthelibrary

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39 Comments

  1. Oh how I share your joy in Jane Eyre. The only book I ever couldn’t bear to return to the school library (insert stole here), and I still have that copy.

    • There are certainly better and more important novels out there, but something about Jane Eyre just gets to me.

    • I will not tell the school you still have that copy.

  2. Clicking Like isn’t good enough… I LOVE this! It brings back so many fond memories.

    • I think lots of people have wonderful memories of the library. It is a wondrous institution.

  3. This reminds me of my excitment when the bookmobile came to our (very rural) town durig the summer!

    • We didn’t have a bookmobile where I grew up. That would be SO FUN!

  4. I, too, was allowed to use the school library at age 7 and have always found refuge in books. The whole world was in those books before I actually got to see it with my own eyes!

    • You remind me of a friend who used as a child could spend hours just looking at maps. She’s now a world-traveller.

  5. One of the proudest moments of my childhood was the day our librarian told my mother there really wasn’t enough in the children’s section for me and I should be allowed to go into the adult area of the library. I couldn’t have been older than 11 or 12 and stunned that my mother agreed to it!

    • Didn’t it feel amazing to borrow that first grown-up book? To walk through those big-book stacks?

  6. Lucky for me my parents had a great library that I indulged in very early under the watchful and guiding eyes of my mother- and we school children lent books out between us. Luckyly, because I hate library books, ever did and probably ever will……. and love reading so very much.

    • We had some books, but we didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, but my mother made sure we all went to the library as often as possible. I do remember we had a copy of “Heidi” at home. I think I read it twenty times.

  7. At Junior school, I was forever borrowing books from the mobile library. At Grammar school, you would find me in the school library in my spare time and in my senior years, I became a Librarian.
    On honeymoon, I read. A Lot. Oops, got my priorities wrong there I guess. Even worse, they were horror stories. Sadly our local library is now not much more than a computer base. Books are again in a mobile unit.
    I’d love to own an Olde Worlde Booke Shoppe, complete with comfy battered sofas, ringed tables and a coffee machine, where you can pick a book, curl up and read it if you want to escape the realities of life.

    • That’s a wonderful dream. I would go there. Books and coffee and a comfy sofa…. there’s nothing better!

  8. I, too, remember getting my library card and the excitement of going to the Library with Mom and getting an armful of books!! And, like Dianna referenced, when the bookmobile would visit our teeny tiny hamlet. And the book fair, buying books seemed so decadent.

    I still have a library card and I still feel a thrill when I walk in the door :)

    Great post,
    MJ

    • I don’t go to the library nearly enough. I have gotten into the Amazon habit. But when I go there, I just spend hours. I like to look at books that I wouldn’t even think about buying, and reading something outside my usual subject matter. I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t like it enough to finish – it was free! That’s a very liberating feeling that allows you to sample all kinds of things.

  9. The library was a magical place for me. I spent many hours there reading. I spent many more at home. I don’t remember asking for anything else but books for Christmas. Reading is such a gift.

    • I think we writers were all devout readers. We all fell in love with words at an early age, and that is a love that lasts.

  10. I was and am a library girl, too. My mother wasn’t a reader, but she gave me the gift of a love of reading. She stepped out of her comfort zone and opened those doors for me. It’s the greatest gift she has ever given me. She took me to the library (it was too many miles away to walk), and she’d from the age of 9, she”d leave me there for hours. It was the greatest freedom I have ever felt. Thank you for this walk down memory lane! This may inspire a post of my own sometime. I will credit you for the inspiration, of course!

    • The library is a wonderful place for a kid to spend time. Your mom did give you a great gift.

  11. We didn’t get a library in our town until I was in high school but my grade school, very Catholic, had one. I read all their books which were biographies of the saints by the time I was 13. I think if the nuns would have read those books, they wouldn’t have allowed them since many saints were killed in a horrific manner. I was very happy when we got a local library. My beloved book was Hawaii by James Michener. I read it at 13 and it was more sexually advanced than I was. I did have the good sense not to ask my mother to explain.

    • Just goes to show you that books are not harmful to kids. If the book is too advanced, they simply don’t understand. “Hawaii” didn’t ruin you – it gave you great memories.

  12. This is the most delightful post I’ve read in a while. I can’t even remember anything about my first library card but I wish I had kept it as well.
    Remember how you had to be quiet in the library? The first time I found myself inside (can’t recall how I came to be inside), I stared at all the books and said, “Wow.” This was no whisper either and the librarian laughed out loud. :-)

    • Wow is a really good word for a library. I’d shout it too!

  13. Oh, yes! I’m the kid whose mom had to come to school every couple of weeks to clear away the box of books under my second-grade desk. Miss Merrill would shake her head and let me get away with keeping the stash until the overflow found its way into the aisles. (She was a reader, too.)

  14. In Grade 4, our class went on a field trip to the Library where we all signed up for our very first Library cards (like you, we had to be able to write our name in cursive, and like your Library, the ‘children’s section’ was in the basement – why WAS that?!?!?!?) The ‘Old Library’ (as it was fondly called) closed down in the mid 60s when a brand new one was built a few blocks further west. I spent a LOT of time in both buildings. One summer (when I was about fifteen or sixteen) I decided I was going to work my way from A through Z in the fiction section (selecting only ‘certain’ books – mostly romance or romantic suspense – of course). I think I made it to D! I always wanted to own a genuine library style study carrel. In Grades 9 and 10, I belonged to the Library Club and seriously considered a career as a Librarian (I didn’t follow through but I did teach several tech courses to students in the Library Techniques program at our Community College!) Thanks for jogging a great series of memories!

    • I tried going alphabetical once. But I felt really bad that I didn’t think I’d ever get to T’s – I didn’t think it was fair to authors that had a last name at the back of the alphabet.

  15. Ray G

    Now, here’s a guy who never had (or has) any sexism issues. I enjoyed Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and I loved Heidi (still do). Along with Moby Dick and many others. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. But, I never got around to Jane Eyre.

    • Good for you, you open-minded boy! I just hated boys. Although I just thought of a book with boys that I actually liked… I liked the “Emil and the Detectives” books. Though I don’t really remember much about them now.

  16. I still think the anticipation of thumbing through the cards of the Dewey Decimal System to find the location of your book was one of the best memories of that world.

  17. We too, had a wonderful library. It was an old historic building, and it had once been used as a prison. Story time was held down below in an area that we called the dungeon. But upstairs in the reading room was the most wonderful fireplace, and a warm, inviting fire burned all winter long. As long as we were quiet, we could cuddle up in a leather armchair in front of the fire. That was important because our parents didn’t take us — no, my older siblings walked me there and back, and when I got older I went by myself. The idea of reading by the fire (we had no fireplace in our house) doubled the magic of the books.

  18. “Nothing is quite as wonderful as a destitute and mistreated orphan.” Quite possibly the greatest sentence about literature ever written. :)

  19. Laurie

    I understand why you gave that jewelry box away. There is always that hope that a young relative will come to treasure it as you did, if even briefly. I very much wish I had my old library card. I had it in the top drawer of my dresser in the house I grew up in. I lost a number of items – my mother moved very suddenly and I had already planned for and paid for a half-summer class in Italy and I didn’t have a chance to go home and retrieve the papers and books I wanted to keep. I can still see my old LPL card – a yellow, dog-eared piece of paper the size of a driver’s license or credit card. I actually had a newer version by that time but I kept the old one. I love reading about people’s experience’s in libraries. So you have loved romance novels since an early age. I grew up in libraries. I actually was sorry to leave the picture book section behind – in fact, in first grade, I got into a bit of an argument with my mother who told the school librarian that I was only to check out books from the regular kid section. I liked pictures and it was first grade so I didn’t see why I couldn’t check out picture books (like the Francis books, the Lonely Dolls and other books with wonderful illustrations) like the other first graders. When I next had access to a library I was in third grade and of course I had to check out regular books but there were the Little House books and many others that I enjoyed. And I could still enjoy picture books, in the form of cookbooks, geography books, my mother’s art history textbooks. But for you to read Bronte at so young an age – no wonder you are such a good writer

  20. I entirely ‘get’ the jewelry box and why the memory was more important than the actual box. I even understand why passing it along was important.

    You and I fell in love with books at about the same age. My first love real book though was The Hobbit, I read it the first time at eleven and insisted for Christmas that year I needed all of the Trilogy. It was hard going, that read was tough. I have read those books so many times since then, passed them on to my own children as well.

  21. I have had my own love affair with books and reading for over 45 years now and my love deepens with every book I read. I remember carrying huge stacks of books home from the library in the summer and staying up all night reading them. Thanks for reminding me of the sweetness of this simple joy!

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