This week’s column for the WIR.
This also aired on KAXE Northern Community Radio. You can listen to that HERE.
August 15th, 2012
Quietly Contrary: Sweet Summer Reading
By Mary Eileen Finch
The small town I grew up in had an equally small library. To my childish self, it was a magical door on the square that allowed me to enter into a room full of possibilities. The very first time I walked up to the desk, the counter towering above my head despite the fact that I was standing on the tips of my toes, the ancient librarian asked me if I wanted to sign up for the summer reading program. I nodded. She asked me how many books I wanted to set as my reading goal. I whispered that I could probably read 100. She gasped. And tried to talk me out of it for fear it would end in disappointment and failure. “One hundred books for such a tiny little thing like yourself is such a large amount to try to read over the whole summer.” Oh. The whole summer? I thought she meant per week. I told her this. She laughed and allowed me to sign up before fading back into the dusty shelves.
My mom would drop me off while she ran errands and I usually had the whole library to myself, minus the constant coughs of the elderly librarian who seemed to be immune to my presence. I’d sneak into the outdated reference section and flip through medical books. Perhaps this is why I ended up having all my children at home as the first place I learned about birth was in books written during the 1800s. The newspapers on the giant rods were entertaining as well, though I was always afraid I would drop one or mix up the seemingly random order. After I had filled my book bag with as many Nancy Drew books as possible I’d curl up in a miniature chair in the children’s section and read until I heard the ding of the door announcing that my mother was back.
But sometimes I would remember that there was a store just around the corner that sold candy. I would try not to think about this, as I wasn’t allowed to leave the library. Often, though, I would find myself checking my pockets for dimes and if there just so happened to be one well, 10 cents is the exact amount one needed to buy a bagful of soft peppermint sticks from the equally ancient woman at the candy counter. Was she the librarian’s sister? This soft, crumbly confection was like Christmas in your mouth and so very perfect for eating while in the midst of a thrilling mystery.
I got caught once. I took too long trying to decide between the bag of mints or the jar of penny candy and as I was running back all ready to sneak into my innocent little chair I saw my mother standing by the library door wearing worry as a second skin. I hung my head in shame, knowing I had been untrustworthy, but not before I hid my candy deep in my pockets for fear she’d take it away.
Thus ended my secret trips to the store, as I never wanted to scare my mom like that again. From time to time, my older sister would take me with her to the store, though. We’d each have a nickel that we’d combined to buy one bag of addicting peppermint sticks. Sometimes this was problematic as there would be an uneven amount of candy in the bag. Who should get the extra one? I don’t remember how we solved that problem but I do remember how wonderful they tasted, as I would sit in the hot summer sun trying not to sticky up the pages of my 100th library book for the week.