This week I will pay homage to libraries and hope you will join me by remembering the libraries of your lifetime and sharing memories of your own. I was inspired by Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, which I’ve been reading. No library lover should miss it.
I’ll begin by honoring my maternal grandmother, Madeline, affectionately known as “Nanna,” with an extra “n” because she was so nice. She and my grandfather retired in the mid-1950’s to Scituate, Massachusetts, along the Atlantic coast where they had summered for years. They learned quickly that the robust summer community, which has been dubbed America’s most Irish town, felt quiet and isolated during the long winter months. My grandmother lamented there were no lights within the houses on her street during off-season and would get “the blues.” When my grandfather died shortly thereafter, leaving her alone with their disabled son, the loneliness drove her straight to the Allen Memorial Library.
The day summer vacation arrived, I descended upon Nanna and her screened front porch where a cushioned chase lounge was reserved for me. The first day, we would drive to the library so I could stock up on books. Nanna would take me by the hand as we ascended the stairs and passed through the imposing screen door into the library.
It was only two large rooms divided by the circulation desk. I was limited by my age to what I remember being called the room designated for “juveniles.” The shelves were packed with books that surrounded me as I chose where to begin. Nanna let me take as many books as the library permitted. She never let me return them late.
We’d return to her cottage where I’d pick my first read of the summer. If the weather was good, I’d take it down the street to the beach. If it wasn’t, I’d hop on that chase lounge and enter the world within my book while inhaling the salt air. Nanna would bring me a tuna sandwich and potato chips so I could read without interruption. She’d have her own book on her lap. We’d pass the day in companionable silence, later sharing what we had read about, anticipating our next trip to the library.
The summer I was eligible to get an adult library card and progress to the room with adult books I had been yearning to read was as much of a major milestone as getting my driver’s license. The tradition with Nanna continued throughout my adolescence, although I did start making her tuna sandwiches and got to drive her to the library in her huge turquoise and white Buick we called “The Tank.”
The smell of the books within the Allen Memorial Library, the sounds of the big screen door slamming behind me, and the sight of librarians putting cards from books into a machine that entered the due date are imbedded in my memory, along with my gratitude for a grandmother who helped to shape my life and to love libraries.
What was the first library you feel in love with?