As a misted, perhaps pre-snow rain fell less than a week ago, I started thinking about the rich imagery behind reading in some library while it pours outside. What is it about wet, confining weather (besides obvious logistics) that makes engaging in literature so pleasurable? Is it the gentle soundtrack, the sweeping hours of unclaimed time, the fogginess recovering scenes from beloved children’s novels, the hope of proceeding sunshine to go out and live what was read or written? Or is it the close proximity, while at home, of family and friends? It’s most likely an adorable memory that is unique for each reader. What follows are some of my own:
The Library Desk
Must and an ancient air conditioning system combined at the top floor of Glenarden Public Library. It was a deafening mixture, forgotten only after scouting the rainbow shelves of unread books. Mom would have to clutch my hand tighter, willing me with her body’s stance to stay close to her or have to turn around and go home. I wouldn’t dare miss out, so I obediently waited for her to reach the children’s reading room. The piles of material became brighter with each step, and I performed a dance-run type movement once she explained I had about thirty minutes to pick out some things and return to meet her at the water fountain. Thirty minutes, yet to my ten-year-old mind, thirty luscious hours of the classics (Hodgson-Burnett, of course) and descriptions of dog breeds.
The time spent from walking to the shelves to sitting cross-legged enveloped by hoards of reading material slipped into nothing. I would switch between knuckling my face and lying on my stomach, lying on my back and holding the book to the ceiling, curled up on my side with one arm for support, and meandering near the table with new thoughts. The evil clock struck eleven-thirty, and I had to do the impossible. Would it be the next installment of Baby-Sitter’s Club, introducing the first African-American and ballet dancer Jessi? The Secret Garden for the third time? A reader on dinosaurs to prepare for that report next Monday? These stories pledged many discoveries and more excuses to hide from the world in their interesting journeys, so I wanted all of them.
“Are you ready, baby?” Mom had her own stack of treasure. She had already asked for the four cotton bags that we would use to haul everything to the car. I placed each book in the bags with care, and followed Mom to the check-out.
Waiting there was a woman who smelled like cinnamon and looked like someone’s grandmother. Next to her and standing was a guy who resembled most fourth-grade male science teachers: just a tad off-kilter. They smiled down at me, inquiring about the Book-It program for local elementary schools and whether or not I had gotten some free pizza. I shyly mentioned that I had already gotten about six personal pan pizzas since beginning the program in third grade. They laughed. I couldn’t see Mom’s face, but I’m sure she was smiling indulgently.
The deep, cleansing rain greeted us at the revolving door and we headed for the car. A day at the library usually meant stopping for lunch somewhere on the way home. We picked Risa up from her friend’s house, and purchased Chinese food. The next, school-free hours were prized by delicious house-fried rice, grape soda, and another trip with Mary Lennox to the garden.
Years of books and food pass by, and to this day I collect stories and stains.