Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Old Friends

Several years ago (if I said how many, it would be depressing), I found myself in a bit of trouble. I walked into the school library with a small stack of books, eager to return them. I was eight years old and absolutely loved to read. Books were my best friends at that tender age. I possessed a shy nature and often retreated into a corner to lose myself inside the pages of a captivating novel.

A product of the "Programmed Reading," phenomenon of the mid-sixties, I found that I could read circles around some of my classmates. Words literally seemed to leap off the page at me, and by the time I was half-way through the second grade, I had managed to read through everything the program had to offer. That was when I was introduced to the school library.

What a wonderful world of discovery--an entire room full of potential new friends! I embraced this opportunity with gusto, much to the librarian's dismay. On the day in question, I gripped the small stack of books in my hands and brought them up to the counter to check them in. The librarian scowled at me, her grey eyes piercing through me as she slid her glasses down her nose for emphasis.

"Young lady, what are you doing?!" she demanded.
Gulping I forced a smile and replied, "Checking in these books."
"But you just checked them out yesterday," she countered.
"I read all of them," I meekly responded.
"There is no way you could have possibly read through all of these books in one day," she continued.
Stunned, I merely stood there, tempted to flee the room that had been a safe haven of delight.
"You are making twice the work for me . . . I know there is no possible way you can be reading through these books this fast. I'm going to call your mother and let her know what you're doing."
I nervously shifted from one foot to the other and quietly said, "Okay."

Picking up the phone from her desk, she asked for my number, then called my mother. This proved to be an interesting conversation. It went something like this:

"Mrs. Jackson, I'm calling to let you know that your daughter, Cheri, has been checking out too many books from our library. She checks them out one day and brings them back the next and I know there's no way she is reading them this fast. She's only in the third grade."
"How well do you know my daughter?" my mother asked.
"She comes into the library every day," the librarian returned with a sniff. "I think I know her pretty well."
"And does she cause any trouble?"
"No . . . well . . . she's pretty quiet . . . but she's making a lot of extra work, pretending to read through all of these books."
"My daughter is reading all of these books. Reading is one of her favorite things to do right now. You can ask her questions about any of those books and she'll be able to answer you in full detail. Now, let me ask you a question--what is your job?"
"I'm the librarian."
"Are you encouraging children to read?"
"Well, yes . . . but in this case . . . "
"In this case you will let my daughter check out as many books as she wants, whenever she wants, or I'll come in and have a chat with the principal."
"There's no need for that," the librarian stammered.
"If you have further questions, talk to Cheri's teacher. She'll explain how fast my daughter reads."

The phone call ended with the librarian promising to never give me a bad time again about the number of books I checked out . . . and she never did cause any more trouble for me.

Shortly after this, family members caught on that giving me books for my birthday, or holidays like Christmas, was a great idea, and slowly, I began building my own personal library, made up of my favorite friends.

That has continued through the years. I currently possess 7 bookcases that are somewhat filled with favorite books. I say, "somewhat," because a great tragedy took place this past year. In March, our basement flooded. This was a very bad thing for many reasons, and our family lost a lot of treasures. 

For Mother's Day, the year before, my sons had put together a special library for me in one corner of our basement. It was filled with my collection of precious books. The flood claimed over 121 of these items--something that nearly broke my heart. Comments from well-meaning family and friends didn't help.

"Well, you've read all of those books--maybe you need to get some new ones to replace them."

People who love books like I do, understand that they are treasured friends. If a book is good enough, I love reading it over and over again.

I'm currently doing my best to restore the books that were lost. Thanks heavens for online sites like, www.abebooks.com  and http://www.amazon.com/ where one can locate books that are out of print or hard to find. The other day, my husband and I stumbled onto a huge going-out-of-business sale by a bookstore in a nearby town. While I'm saddened that this store is closing its doors, (something that happens far too often these days) I was thrilled to find several books by one of my favorite authors who were just waiting for a good home.

This past week several copies of my lost tomes have arrived via our faithful mail carriers. I cannot put into words how it feels to unwrap them, and place them back on the shelf where they belong. To me, these books are friends. They have taken me to places I may never see in person, and some of them have taught me important lessons. Others provided a much-needed escape when life threw curve-balls. Reference books have answered questions, fantasies have filled my heart with color. Mysteries have intrigued me. So on and so forth. Each book has touched me in some way and truly is a treasured friend.

I'm more careful now about how I'm putting my library back together-- I'm not sure any books will go on the lower shelves of the new bookcases. Though we have taken measures to ensure that this type of tragic loss will never happen again, it still fills my heart with dread to think about future glitches. And I'm finding that these books are even more precious than before, items I will never take for granted again. I guess it's really true that we sometimes have to lose what we love to realize just how much they really mean.