The much beloved building didn’t look like much on the outside. The structure was old, a remnant of early mining days. It was one story with a façade front, making it look a lot more substantial. It had been painted white years ago but now, in 1973, was worn down to grey weathered wood on much of the exterior. On the façade front were painted two large words in faded black lettering: McRae’s Grocery. The lack of vehicles parked around the building on any given day might deceive one into thinking the building was just another abandoned relic of a bygone day. But on Tuesday afternoons a small snake of smoke could be seen wafting out the chimney. If it was summertime, then no evident chimney smoke, but instead a door open wide to show business was “open.” When crossing the threshold your eyes might first light on a large flat-topped desk. Small boxes filled with index cards were laid atop the desk. An ink pad and rubber stamp could also been seen there. When walking further in one could see the bookshelves lining the walls of the room. An additional free standing book shelf was kept parallel to the shelf on the back wall. Next to the desk a black pot-bellied wood stove stood, letting its heat permeate the modest and humble space.
Lavina Stroud, a petite and jovial woman could be found working energetically amongst the books. Mrs. Stroud, though we mostly called her Lavina, greeted patrons with a warm and welcoming “Hello! Come in!” Lavina lived just a few houses away. She had a full time job as the one and only school secretary, but also ran this community library, open one day a week.
It was a time-honored and reverent kind of thing to make a weekly library visit. Here was where magic was stored in volumes, waiting to be devoured. There really weren’t very many books housed there, but the tiny community found more than plenty to satisfy a need to read. The children’s books were kept on the farthest shelf in the back, titles like The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and Go, Dog, Go. We went to the library en masse — that is, as soon as Primary ended.
When school was through for the day a dozen or so children walked a short distance to the church where on Tuesdays Primary was held. After about an hour of stories, and inspirational words of encouragement to “choose the right” and listen to the “still small voice,” songs were sung about little purple pansies, walking by lilac trees, being a sunbeam for Jesus, being as unselfish as a happy stream, or being called to serve as a missionary when they had grown a “foot or two.” Those were happy moments, singing at the top of their lungs.
At the end of each weekly Primary, Aunt Sharon and Aunt Diane would lock the church and drive one very short block to the community library with several children in tow, myself included. The next half hour was spent hungrily choosing books to be read that week. At a certain point the girls began to read chapter books: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, and Trixie Belden. They were read several times over with the Nancy Drew being the hands down favorite. The cousins didn’t mind in the least sharing a book to read simultaneously. We became skilled at reading together, waiting to turn the page until the other reader was done. And if there happened to be halves of salted lemons to lick, so much the better.
Though there really wasn’t a large collection of books in the library, there were the “traveling books” to look forward to. Three or four times a year the small library received a shipment of these books shared by the state of Idaho’s library in Boise. There was nothing more satisfying than hearing the gentle thump of the rubber stamp on the library cards for the books you had selected that week. Patrons signed their names as best they could when very young. If the book was very good, one could see the same signatures over and over and over again on the card.
One summer Lavina had a special treat for library patrons. She put out a series of bookmarks that used an astrological theme. In 1973, nearly everyone knew their sign in the zodiac, and it seemed that many took it very seriously. Lavina spaced the giving out of the bookmarks, so collecting all twelve took some time. Each bookmark told something about a zodiac sign, what personality characteristics went along with it, and a generous listing of good books that one born under that sign would love to read. We cousins were enthralled by the bookmarks and poured over the collected bookmarks often. We tried to read some of the books suggested even if the library didn’t have very many of the titles. It was fascinating to imagine about and associate oneself with a particular book. All those cousins would go on to be excellent readers and some continued on to teach others reading and writing. Thank you, Lavina Stroud!
I imagine a lot of readers have had a memorable book moment, or several, with a library or librarian or teacher or family member. This happens to be mine. Here is a list of books in which the lives of young people are steadied (even preserved) or noticeably altered through an encounter with a book, library, or things literary, sometimes resulting in a profound change of perspective or dramatic transformation, or just a really fun time. Which have you read? Which would you add to this list?
- The Creature From My Closet series: Wonkenstein, Potterwookie, Pinocula by Obert Skye
- A Series of Unfortunate Events esp. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
- Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
- Matilda by Roald Dahl
- Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
- Adventures in Extreme Reading by Jan Fields
- A Summer of Sundays by Eland Lindsay
- The Anybodies and The Somebodies by N.E. Bode
- Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller
- Huge by James W. Fuerst
- The Mother-Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick
- Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
- Grace’s Twist by Melissa J. Morgan
- My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian
- Storybound and Story’s End by Marissa Burt
- After Eli by Rebecca Rupp
- Kepler’s Dream by Juliet Bell
- Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Regan Barnhill
- Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
- Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
- Adventures in Extreme Reading by Jan Fields
- The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki
- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
- Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron
- Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
- The Zebra Forest by Adina Gewirtz