The race to get there—dodging cars and dogs, and ignoring the blare of horns—contrasted with the deathly silence upon entering the library’s austere interior. Safely entombed behind those heavy doors, I was guaranteed the suspicious scrutiny of elderly ladies conducting important business with all manner of index cards and rubber stamps with purple ink. Without fail they were uniformed in floral dresses and sensible shoes. Gray hair was wrapped in buns and occasionally the most cautious among them added the protection of a net. These matrons were not to be messed with even if they did smell of the same talc my sweet grandmother wore. Respectfully and with eyes averted, I made my way to the stairs. Though the steps led downward, it was my stairway to heaven.
Jumping off the last tread, I entered that sacred area labeled ‘Children’s Section’ where stale air scented with dust and aged pages greeted me. I headed straight for the back wall where, on the third and fourth shelves, rested adventures and lives recorded on pages with unfinished edges and hard covers of burnt orange. My eyes quickly scanned the titles on the spines. I saw several old friends—Davy and Daniel of course, George and Abe, Zachary Taylor and ‘Old Hickory’—but many I was still eager to get to know. I grabbed several and lugged them to the scarred and pock marked table where my task was to select the precious three that would go home with me for two weeks. However, I knew their stay would fall well short of the allotted fourteen days because the quests contained within those orange covers would be consumed quickly. One likely wouldn’t last the afternoon and evening. And no book was ever, ever late in returning because, with a dollar bill in my pocket for a recently mown lawn and a new shipment of five-cent baseball cards arriving at the corner grocery, a two-cent per day penalty simply wasn’t good financial management!
I suppose without realizing the connection, my early exposure to reading factored in The Mysterious Miss Snoddy series. I was a pre-television farm boy who clearly recalls listening to my mother’s evening readings from The Hills of Kentucky and The Sugar Creek Gang. My appreciation for history also grew with the number of candles on my birthday cake. Three of my grandchildren are the story’s main characters and they benefit from Miss Snoddy’s personal relationship with American history. My wish is for them to learn to love reading and writing and realize the places they can go when they get between the front and back covers of a book.