On libraries, cemeteries, and the wisdom in song

On libraries, cemeteries, and the wisdom in song

As I was filling out the required paperwork, it occurred to me this would likely be the last time in my life I would ever do it.

But that thought didn’t make me sad … it had the opposite effect.

In the six months since my wife and I moved back home after 23 years on an endless summer vacation in coastal North Carolina, I’ve developed writer’s cramp from all the forms that have been shoved at me: the doctor’s office, the DMV, the pharmacy, the Eagles Club, the insurance company, the internet provider, et cetera.

A quick aside … even after all that, I still don’t know my phone number, which says a whole lot more about me than I care to admit.

I understand it’s all necessary stuff and that I ought to be grateful most of it went smoothly enough, but I have yet to face the one task I keep putting off: reserving a cemetery plot.

Friends will say, “Man, I took care of that years ago. No big deal.”

Perhaps they’re right, but there’s something inside me — some impulse that stops me every time I get close to doing it — and I’ve always listened to that inner voice, the one that advised me 60 summers ago to forego guitar lessons and focus on Little League.

Of course, that’s the same bothersome conscience that urged me to turn down a fellowship to Notre Dame just because my college girlfriend cheated on me six days a week and twice on Sundays.

To quote Steely Dan, “I did not think the girl could be so cruel.”

So I never went back to my old school, except for a few football games, though I’ve given some thought to a road trip later this summer, since the place will be pretty much empty and I don’t know when I’ll ever get the chance to pray at the Grotto again.

Not to be morbid, but funeral homes have been much on my mind lately, which brings us back to the other day when I applied for a library card. The woman behind the desk — who couldn’t have been more helpful, a true credit to her profession — told me it would take a few minutes before it would be ready, so I walked outside with my wife and we sat on a concrete wall that, coincidentally, just happened to straddle the border between a pair of mortuaries.

Lest you think my little town has a ghoulish streak in it, planting a place of learning between two end-of-the-road destinations, let me assure you it’s just an accident of design.

But I will admit there was a part of me that wanted to hop off that wall and march into one — or both, just doing some comparison shopping — but once again, I decided to put it off.

Instead, I walked back into the library with my wife and occupied myself with seeing the place, which has changed immensely since we were last living here, though the structure itself is the same.

And the memories came flooding back, everything from the Summer Reading Club to the times when, as an eighth-grader, I used to walk a girl home from school, though we’d occasionally stop off there, our fingers finding one another as we flipped through the card catalog, then playing footsie under the table as we ostensibly did a little research, sitting across from each other.

You have to understand that as mild as those flirtations might seem, we attended the only parochial school in the county, a place that not only discouraged social intermingling, but also threatened truly punitive responses when certain offending actions were uncovered.

I can still recall the chaos that ensued when I gave my walk-home library partner my ID bracelet, which was a cool thing back then.

You’d have thought I’d knocked her up … or turned Protestant.

“Michael,” said my teacher, who happened to be a nun who happened to be the principal, “some other students look up to you, though I don’t know why, with you wearing those penny loafers.”

That was another cool thing back then, messing with the dress code.

I said nothing, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” she said. “You’re going to take back that ID bracelet, or you’re going to face disciplinary action.”

That was not a hill I was willing to die on, so I gave her a smile.

“You got it, Sister,” I said, walking away. “Consider it done.”

The way I looked at it, my library-stroll-home friend could easily fasten the bracelet to her wrist once we’d cleared school grounds and wear it whenever and wherever she wanted after that. To me, she was innocent of anything remotely offensive. She was just nice.

Besides, everyone knew I’d given it to her, so it was no big secret.

And if she decided one day she no longer wanted to wear it at all, simply felt like giving it back, well, that was perfectly fine too.

To quote Traffic, “We were children once, playing with toys.”

These are the kinds of memories I’ve been dredging up since coming back home, the ones that underlie the town as it is now.

I wouldn’t say the library is haunted, but there’s a lot going on in there that no one else sees, and that’s probably all for the best.

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or at 1317 Troy Road, Ashland, OH 44805. He invites you to find him on his Facebook page, where there are no complicated forms to fill out.

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