It is absolutely amazing how the mind works. I was trying to think of a subject for this blog, and my mind kindly provided the mental image of flipping through an old-style library card file…you may remember: those long wooden drawers with little brass pulls and a brass-framed rectangle on the front, above the pull, into which a card could be inserted to designate the drawer’s contents: a 3x5 card of every book in the library by subject, title, and Dewey decimal number.
And suddenly I was back in the Rockford Public Library, a staid, solid building of grey stone on the west bank of the Rock River, just off the downtown area. It was the kind of library anyone from anywhere in the U.S. would instantly recognize as being a library from six blocks away.
One of my very first jobs, if not my first, was as a page in the library (even then I delighted in that image); my job was to return books to the stacks, go down into the archives and retrieve old books, magazines, and newspapers requested from the front desk.
I think I was in 10th grade at the time. I can pinpoint it by the fact that at one point my first serious love interest, who was a junior high classmate and whose name I’d best not repeat here, came into the library one evening while I was working. I’d changed schools, which had necessitated our parting of the ways, but I was still madly in love with him. (Well, for a teenage boy, it’s a little difficult to tell the difference between love and lust, but I was pretty sure it was love.) Anyway, I distinctly remember having him go with me into the basement archives where we…well, if you need a diagram, let me know. Had we been caught, I can only imagine the scandal, and the possibility of that happening undoubtedly only added to the excitement of the encounter.
I think the library closed at either 8 or 9 each night, and I would then walk across the river and up to North Second Street, where I would catch the bus for home. There was a bagel shop on the corner, and each night I’d stop and buy a bagel which I would not eat until I reached the end of the bus line in Loves Park, Rockford’s immediate suburb to the north. We lived a mile beyond the end of the bus line, and I would eat the bagel while walking home, often through the bitter cold and snow of winter.
I still have somewhere a newspaper photo of me and some other library employees admiring the library’s acquisition of an 8mm movie projector: a newspaper-photo-worthy event in those oh, so innocent and oh, so long gone days.
I don’t think I worked at the library all that long: less than a year, I’m sure, and my specific memories are few. I remember the cart I’d push, the odd echoes of footsteps through the stacks, and the distinct smell of books, and the sense of calm and knowledge residing therein. I can picture the cards in their little sleeves inside the front cover of the books, and the lines of rubber-stamped dates.
Looking back, they were my yeast years: I was a lump of dough, most of the ingredients of my life having by that time been mixed together to produce who I was and would become. But there had to be a calm period of warm but indistinct memories which allowed the yeast to rise before being put into the oven of college. It was a good time.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: