Back then we lived a long way from the nearest branch of the public library

Back then we lived a long way from the nearest branch of the public library

Let’s start with a quick quiz.

What was first on the list of things I wanted to acquire after we left Ohio and relocated to North Carolina?

Was it a driver’s license, a Blockbuster membership, a weekly offering envelope for the Catholic church, an invitation to join a bowling team or a library card?

If you guessed “B,” you were close. Because back in the fall of 2000, Blockbuster was a crowded, happening place, and my wife — then my fiancée — and I had spent many a Friday night watching movies on the VCR I’d had since the Carter administration.

It was among our favorite activities, just settling in for the evening with something like “52 Pick-Up” or “Paris, Texas” or “Pump Up the Volume” waiting to be popped into that miracle machine.

My apartment back home wasn’t a big place, unlike the house we’ve lived in since our big move down South, but it had all the necessities including a galley kitchen and a deck/patio where I could grill steaks on Movie Night.

Those were good times.

No, those were great times.

When you’re first getting to know someone, it’s essential to discover whether or not your taste in movies meshes, and I was delighted to discover the new woman in my life found the black humor in “Heathers” just as delightful as I did.

In fact, “What’s your damage, Heather?” has become one of our favorite catch-phrases, one that surfaces when either of us falls into a funk, fretting over work woes or car trouble or a Notre Dame loss.

But to get back to the quiz, the correct answer is “E.”

The first thing I applied for, even before cable TV had been hooked up or we got a landline telephone, was a library card.

But it took some doing.

When you’re new in town, you lack certain essentials, like, oh, say proof of residence, and that proved to be a serious obstacle as I tried to explain to the lady at the checkout desk.

“Well,” I said, “we just moved in yesterday, like literally.”

My attempt at lightening the mood fell flat.

“Driver’s license?” she asked. “Blockbuster card?”

“No,” I said, “they’re on my list, though.”

It’s funny how when you’re denied something essential, you only want it more, especially when it’s access to thousands of books.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a reader. The love of the written word is as much a part of who I am as my affection for British Invasion singles and New York Yankees baseball.

Mom used to read us bedtime stories, and Dad usually was working his way through at least two or three books — a best-seller, some thick biography and a history of Gettysburg — at the same time.

We lived a long way from the nearest branch of the public library.

But back then they had a modern miracle called a bookmobile, which made stops in all the remote and far-flung neighborhoods on the outskirts of the state capital, where we lived in the early ’60s.

Oh, it was quite a thing when that big blue bus parked behind the elementary school across the street from our house. Back then we had doctors who made house calls, a man who delivered glass bottles of cold milk to your doorstep, the Avon Lady, the Fuller Brush man and, best of all, an ice cream truck that showed up, a jaunty tune playing from its speaker, usually just after supper.

But the bookmobile was the best.

When we moved in the summer of 1964 from the city suburb to the small town I still call home, nearly everything was within walking distance, and if it wasn’t, we had our bikes, which could take us anywhere we wanted to go.

A lot of the time that was to the library.

It was a grand place, two floors of neatly organized books, miles of shelves groaning under the sheer weight of discovery and wisdom. There was a Summer Reading Club, one that required you to give a report on each book you’d read and your name would appear on a wall chart with stars indicating the number you’d amassed.

And in the fall and winter, I used to walk from school to the library, usually with a girl who was my friend, not yet my “girlfriend,” though we did have fun playing footsie as we studied and brushing fingertips as we searched the card catalog for a title we needed.

It was innocent, illuminating, and it led to us skating together at the ice rink in the park, her mittened hand in my gloved one as we circled the perimeter, wearing stocking caps with long tails on them, just being together on those frosty nights, the stars shining.

When you’re 13 years old and in the eighth grade and you’re far, far away from the nuns who lived for denying most social interactions between boys and girls, you’d swear you were in heaven, blessed.

It was a Holden Caulfield moment.

Which brings us back to “Catcher in the Rye” and J.D. Salinger and, of course, to libraries.

“After three days without reading, talk becomes stale.”

Those words were printed on a poster that hung above the blackboard in my fourth-grade classroom, and they’ve stayed with me all these years. I know people my age who freely admit they haven’t picked up a book in decades, who say they don’t have time for reading, whose lives are too crowded, too busy, too hectic for something so solitary and time-consuming, something so fine.

It’s a sentiment that is utterly alien to me.

I cannot conceive of a life without books.

Then again, I have no real use for social media beyond a bit of Facebook interaction, and the notion of “handheld devices” and “smart phones” leaves me cold. It’s as if people are so consumed with texting and all that other jive that they’ve forgotten the simple pleasure to be found when you see the words, “Chapter One.”

A door opens.

You walk through.

It’s that easy to be amazed again at the library.

Just make sure you have your Blockbuster card handy.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load