Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Memoir Moment - The Library on a Rainy Morning

I keep seeing the rain-soaked street in memories of my childhood. A gray weekday morning in September or early October, newly-planted, young maple trees along the sidewalk dripping with rain; me in vinyl raincoat, opening an umbrella and dashing out of the car to escape the downpour and find refuge in the library on that street across from the Post Office.

I remember the feeling of what I might now call “an artistic moment.” 

It was then I felt most happy, at home, at peace on a rainy day on a tree-lined street, racing inside a book-filled sanctuary. I could lose myself in mystery, in the magic of stories told across the ages . . .women’s stories, young adult fantasies, histories of the English monarchy; a pathway to learning about myself and my life which I had yet to live.

Contemplation, reflection. How many of us have time for that anymore? Our senses continually bombarded with unending horrors, disasters, crises of incalculable human toll make those early years seem relics of a time that forever changed me and are forever gone.

I recently read somewhere about the questionable “relevance” of libraries in the digital age. Maybe, for some, they have become a place to check out a CD of songs . . . not books; libraries facing the unique challenges of changing “consumer habits;” their ability to rent, not own books, as in the case of the ebook, presenting problems involving licensing and copyright laws.

My memories return to being a girl of thirteen or fourteen; browsing books on wood-paneled shelves, scanning titles, names of authors, making my selection . . . walking over to the long tables by windows with views of busy Lancaster Ave., the main thoroughfare in Wayne; a small grocery store, yellow concrete columns of the Anthony Wayne movie theater.

Loving the feel and smell of the pages, falling in love with words, sentences, scenes, characters . . . with the idea of being a writer; stories swimming through my head of beautiful, strong women, chivalric men and moody, romantic landscapes of trees, meadows and skies.

Feeling the comfort of knowing my father would soon return, to pick me up, take me home.

I could write my own story; no strong woman to serve as template; my mother dealing with anxiety disorders and a cerebral and co-dependent husband. Just an imagination and a father who told me I could write amusing letters which I sent home the summer before from camp in New Hampshire.

I can’t remember if it was my mother or my father who went with me that rainy day as I ran up the sidewalk to the side door of the library, but I am thinking my mother since she was home, a housewife, no job, endless hours of housekeeping, running errands, preparing dinner.

We entered through the door on the lower level with its concrete walls adorned by painted murals of children flying kites; a special smell of books and chalk, of creativity filled the space; crayons and little pots of paint and brushes next to coloring books in the children’s reading room on small, low-lying desks. I think that must have been my first introduction to Head Start there in the Radnor Township Library.

Years later I realize . . . an artist needs that space; that room of her own, time in isolation with the stories, the words, the memories, the synergies, the takeaways.

This morning I'm feeling fortunate for being a writer; feeling lucky to have grown up with a public library in my town; with parents who willingly drove me to the library whenever I asked; to a special place, a respite from the world.

Can you share a childhood memory of the library or a place of respite from the world?

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