The Library

By Francine Garson

As a child growing up in the 1960s in New Jersey, by late July of each summer, the euphoria of freedom from book reports, math tests and non-air-conditioned classrooms had lost a little of its earlier appeal. The hot, sticky days in my semi-rural town, broken up only by weekend trips to the beach, had become monotonous. Riding my bicycle along dusty streets by daytime and catching fireflies at night were no longer enough to keep me from whining, “Mom, I’m bored.” My mother knew the signals and read me well. She never suggested weekly trips to the library in early summer, just after I had returned my tattered reading workbook and bent-paged dictionary to my unsmiling teacher. She understood the initial allure of long summer days with nothing to do. She waited for the “Mom…”

Its large, railed porch, lacy trim, and set of three steepled roofs made the building at 80 Broad Street a New Jersey approximation of a Victorian home. But the building that looked like a gingerbread concoction was much more than a pretty house with a wide verandah. To me, it was a treasure chest of riches that made the climb up its too-many stairs to the third floor a prelude to adventure. A cascade of books – big, small, fat and thin – crammed the rarely dusted wooden shelves of the children’s section in my town library. Actually, the library wasn’t even located in my town of Farmingdale, New Jersey, but in Freehold, which was a twenty minute drive away. Yet every week, my working and overworked mother piled my sister and me into our wood-paneled station wagon and made that drive.

Each of our library trips began with the same five words. Remember girls, three books each. The fact that my younger sister could not even read yet didn’t matter to my mother. Three books each. That was the rule, broken only once after an unfortunate incident involving a library book, a purple-crayoned page, me and my very distraught mother. The following week while my mother and sister checked out their three books each, I slunk past the librarian’s desk.

In addition to her role as the library chauffeur, my mother was the keeper of the small yellow card that allowed me to bring a part of the larger world, both real and imagined, to the semi-rural farmhouse that was my home. I traveled in Nancy Drew’s blue roadster, plunged down a rabbit hole with Alice, and stood with Scout as Atticus Finch left the courtroom. When, after finally mastering the lower scoop of my first initial, I could sign my name in script and received my own library card. I kept it, the first official document that belonged only to me, in the small white box which housed my topaz birthstone ring, a lucky penny found face up on a trip to the Empire State Building and a plastic ballerina who spun to a scratchy music-box version of “Swan Lake.”

That original card has been replaced many times. The library gods changed its background from yellow to blue, to white, back to yellow and most recently to a credit card-looking rectangle of green plastic decorated with a string of digits and a barcode. The books have been uprooted from their gingerbread home and moved to a sleek brick building replete with air conditioning and an elevator. And I must admit that sliding my compact car into a neatly outlined parking space in the library’s blacktopped lot is much easier than my mother’s task of parallel parking her station wagon on Broad Street.

I push against the heavy glass door and step onto the scuffed-but-clean floor and into the delicious coolness. A wall-sized corkboard is plastered with signs: Chess Tournament. Summer Family Film Festival. Knitting for Everyone. Young Adult Book Group. Cell Phones Are Permitted in the Lobby Only! I check the computer-generated spreadsheet for the location of my writers’ group meeting – Room 8 at 2 pm. A youngish woman, clutching the hand of a ponytailed little girl, strides past me. Smiling at their updated versions of the tie-dyed t-shirts of my youth, I follow them through a narrow hallway lined with photographs of puppies, kittens and bunnies. A yellow sign adorned with rainbow-colored butterflies hangs over the entrance to a brightly lit room – Children’s Books.

Sliding my notebook-filled tote bag off my wrist, I glance at my watch; 1:45pm. I have just enough time for a quick visit with some very old friends.

About this writer

  • Francine Garson A former college counselor and law school administrator, Francine Garson’s work has appeared in All Things Girl, Still Crazy,, Writer Advice, and WritersType. Her flash fiction received a first place award from the League of American Pen Women in 2010.

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2 Responses to “The Library”

  1. marsha tennant says:

    Francine, Thank you for transporting me back to the tiny library of my 50’s childhood! Your words were my thoughts! I still love the library! Beautiful essay.

    • Francine Garson says:

      Marsha, I apologize for my belated response to your comment (I had a problem with email). Thank you for sharing your own memory and for your very kind words!

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