Wherever you are…

I was just going to write a post that started out: “I am at the library.”

The post would have gone on to tell you all about how much you can learn about a person by

Modern Mary wants to go to there. Always.

finding out where their favorite places are. The library has always been a refuge of mine. Not necessarily this library, although it’s history in my life is rich, but any library, anywhere. And every library at every university I attended and every city I have lived in. The library to me is nearly church.

A few weeks ago, as I was walking out of the library with Prima, I told her, “Prima, no matter what you are going through in your life, no matter what you need, you can always go to the library.” I squeezed her hand extra tight when I said it, hoping to create a physical reminder of this gospel. I hope she holds that idea somewhere inside her heart forever.

But back to my post.

The post would have told you about my childhood, when my three brothers and I spent the early summers after we moved to Bedford Falls and did not know many people, driving in our powder blue Pontiac station wagon to wherever the public library’s Bookmobile was

“Get your books and get in the car! We going to the Bookmobile,” Modern Mary’s mom used to say.

stopping that day. Many lived miles from the main branch of the library at that point, so our growing city had settled on the Bookmobile as a suitable replacement to the brick and mortar.

I have vague images of the heat, our four little bodies sticking to the blue leather seats, windows down, wearing our mid-80s short running shorts, with the white stripes down the side, and our Snoopy T-shirts.

We would arrive at the Bookmobile, books clutched in dirty paws, and rush over. The big step up into the Bookmobile required a double-handed grab on the silver handles and a hoist from behind, willingly delivered with extra viciousness by one of my brothers.

And there was Dorcus. She was the Bookmobile lady and probably one of the first friends my Mom made in our new city. My mom made friends with everyone. That was just who

Dorcus was not this old. But in our childhood minds she was about 500.

she was. Of course she was on a first-name basis with Dorcus, and reprimanded us when we giggled at her name, sharing some sobering detail about her life, like how much Dorcus loved her grandchildren or that, did we realize, Dorcus’ husband had just had surgery.

The four of us would scatter around the Bookmobile, pulling out new books, returning old ones, leafing through illustrations to select more. My mom would talk to Dorcus, and get recommendations for the next book or 12 that deserved to land on her nightstand. I remember being amazed my mother could read those thick-as-Bibles books in just a week or two and then return them to Dorcus for a full discussion and request for another recommendation. To me it was a sign of ultimate grown-up lady-ness.

The Bookmobile was a refuge from the hot summer days, a way to unwind our constantly kid-wound minds, an old friend, and always a place that had the magical effect of bringing peace to our mother, who found herself in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by four young children only 6 years apart in age and a husband who constantly traveled.

They eventually did build a library branch closer to us and so the Bookmobile went away, as did Dorcus. (I know my mother kept in touch with her for awhile, once she moved to a proper librarian position. I remember my mom walking right up to the main desk and asking if Dorcus was there, which as a teenager was so supremely embarrassing.) Sometimes after school if my mom was delayed, she would call Mrs. Phoenix the chain-smoking, rod-thin and mean secretary and have her relay the message that the four of us should walk over to the library, and she would pick us up there. Mom knew we would be safe there, find distraction and comfort. We would play and get shushed, get lost in the stacks, panic and find each other in relief, and read stuff we knew we shouldn’t. It was all so thrilling.

My mother is gone now, but the library is still here. This place, above many others, seems to calm my spirit as it captures her essence in its cool quiet and the reassurance of all of those books, all knowledge and insight, and fun and adventure at my fingertips, an orderly anchor for my chaotic Modern Mary life. It feels like my mother’s embrace. It reads like her forgiving, commonsense caring approach to navigating life and relationships. It’s less heartbreaking and more heartwarming.

I was thinking all of this as I walked through those sliding glass doors from the warm day and was enveloped by the cool, bookish library smell. I was missing my mom so much the hole in my chest was gaping open a bit.

As I walked by the charity shop the library volunteers run, where they sell retired books, the first volume my eyes laid themselves on called out to me its title, “Wherever you are, my love will find you.”

So then, I decided to write about that.


10 thoughts on “Wherever you are…

  1. Your mom sounds like a fantastic woman. I love it that she talked to everyone and made so many friends. That’s good advice for your daughter about the library being available as a refuge and a sanctuary in life. I will try to pass that on to my children too.

  2. Going to the local library was a favorite pastime for my mom and me, as well. Sadly, I have hardly taken my two little bookworms to the one(s) near us now–even though my 7-year old devours books, he loves re-reading things and so we end up at the bookstore more than the library so he *can* keep those favorites just under his bed forever, for quick reference! You’ve inspired me to start taking my nearly-three-year-old, though. I’m not quite sure why I haven’t. Our house is full of books and readers (except my husband; I think studying during med school burned him out on heavy reading)…I’d love for my kids to think as fondly of the library as I still do of the one from my childhood (which rebounded from a fire a few years ago, come to think of it!). Keep writing!

    • I’ll be glad to hear about your own library adventures with your two bookworms. One way or the other, it so much fun to share that love of books and reading with them. I’m like your older son, and I’d like to keep every single book I’ve read. If it weren’t for the library, I would probably be writing this pinned under a massive stack of books. Thanks for reading! XO — Modern Mary

  3. Can hardly read the end of this through my tears. This is your best post ever. I am proud that you could put this all into words, as I know that is hard to do, Love your big brother.

  4. Nice post! The library was my sanctuary as a kid, and all the books I lugged home on my bike likely guided me toward a writing career. Libraries are also critical for student learning. This seems like a no-brainer, but I continue to be shocked by the lack of adequate public or school libraries in South Africa, where my surrogate son goes to college. In fact 80% of South African students don’t have a library. I recently wrote a blog post about Room to Read, an organization that works to expand access to books in Africa and Asia. Check it out .. http://bit.ly/Ploy49 … and let’s help everyone enjoy the riches of libraries.

  5. I love this post! I remember going to the Bookmobile with my mom – it was always fun to find new books to check out and take home. Even now, I love just going into a library and perusing all of the books. Such a great place for reflection!

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