Suzann Ledbetter


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"Libraries are holy places, like churches with stacks instead of pews, where people speak in hushed voices and those who don't, get the evil eye from others."

I'm paraphrasing, but that's essentially what I said to a friend when the subject of libraries came up. The analogy rattled out in a somewhat mystical tone and I admitted I sounded like an 8-year-old, then later realized why.

We had only one car when I was a kid, so Mom had to consult with Daddy on which day he wouldn't need wheels for business purposes, get her act together early and drive him to the office, then haul back at 5. What appears to be a hassle and perhaps evidence of wifely downtroddenness and lack of liberation was standard operating procedure then, since few families could afford two cars, nor needed a spare.

The news that Mom was about to be mobile always put me on my best behavior. If I could stanch the fidgets and my tendency toward anarchy, I'd be rewarded with a visit to the local Carnegie Library's children's department. The three- story granite, castle-like structure was the closest thing to Disney's Magic Kingdom a bookworm-tomboy in southwest Missouri whose Mom only got the car once a week could hope for.

Whenever I skipped down the steps to the side-entrance to the children's department in the basement, I'd pause in the entry, gaze wistfully at the walnut bannister and stairway leading to the adult section, and wish I were twelve instead of eight. Four years was an eternity to wait for an adult library card, particularly since Mom taught me to read before I started school and I could gallop through a Nancy Drew in an hour, then rehash the plot, if someone-- usually my older sister--accused me of skipping pages with abandon.

Although I loved "shopping" the shelves in the children's library with my arms wrapped around a batch of mysteries, histories, adventures, new worlds to explore, books about geology, horses, science experiments (primarily of the explosive persuasion) and virtually anything that caught my fancy, most kids' books were skinnier than I was.

The librarian allowed me to exceed the maximum number of tomes check-out-able at once, but I'd zip through my borrowed treasures twice before Mom was mobile again, and I yearned for bigger books, with bigger words and fewer pictures because my imagination supplied its own and they didn't necessarily jibe with the published ones.

Almost four decades have passed, but I well remember the rainy Tuesday trip to the library when I burst into the basement clutching my due-books against me, so they wouldn't get wet. The librarian smiled and said she had a surprise for me. Thinking she'd reserved a new horse book, it took a minute for my brain to register what she held in her hand: a shiny, adult library card with my name typed at the top.

Sadly, I never knew her name, but she gave me the best present I'll ever receive: the key to the castle, the holy, magical place with stacks instead of pews where this perpetual 8-year-old still speaks in a hushed voice.

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