This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club: asking us what we learned by heart in childhood.
To know something by heart is to love it so much that you hold it within your heart forever. Growing up, I knew by heart our community bookmobile. Every two weeks the bookmobile would round the bend in the road and toot the horn a couple of times before parking at the side of the road in front of my neighbors’ house. I would go to my jewelry box and grab my library card; thick salmon cardboard with a piece of metal affixed to it. I loved everything about this card: the raised letters of my card number; my shaky yet solemn signature; the little plastic sleeve it lived in between bookmobile visits. My library card was my license to travel.
Mom would give us the go-ahead, and my sisters and I would race out the door and down the hill. There were three bushes—small, medium and large—separating our property from the neighbors’ place. I ignored them, running between them and on to the lawn next door.
Two open doors with huge steps led into the bookmobile. Inside, it was dark and cool and quiet. The librarians, a tall man and a small woman with dark glasses and curly hair, took their places behind a little checkout desk, their backs facing the steering wheel. They’d pick up their little silver stampers and adjust the dates before setting them next to black ink pads.
The books were tightly packed on the shelves. There were stepping stools with wheels to help patrons reach the books close to the ceiling. The bookmobile smelled of perfume and dusty books and words waiting for just the right reader.
If we needed help, one of the librarians would push through the little gate beside the checkout desk. The gate would swing back and forth; back and forth; interrupting the quiet before settling itself back again into silence.
I lingered as long as I could in the bookmobile, picking out a huge stack of books before approaching the desk. There was a beautiful ritual to the checkout process: A paper pocket in the back of each book held a white card containing information about the book—its title, author and publication date. The librarians would slip these cards from their pockets and slide into their place new cards neatly stamped with the due date. This accomplished, my library card would be fitted into a machine. One at a time, the books' cards would be fed into the machine, which would magically transfer my number onto them. The librarians would work their way through my books in this manner, all the while talking to me about my family; about reading; about life.
And then, I would take my stack of books and step back into the sunshine and charge up the hill again, past the bushes one…two…three and head into my bedroom where I would decide which of my books to read first.
The librarians would put away their stampers and ink pads. They’d fold away the steps. They would close the doors. The driver would take his place behind the steering wheel and the librarians would drive away with their treasure until the next time.
* * *
Every couple of days, my kids and I load up into the car and head to the library to get great stacks of books. At the self-checkout station, I punch in my library card number and my pin and begin scanning my books.
Unfortunately, I know my card number by heart.
Labels: Books, Country life, Growing up, Libraries, Ohio, Reading, the red dress club: