So I like to read. A lot. In eager anticipation of her visit to Loussac Library tomorrow I’ve been reading Linda Sue Park’s books to my boys and last week in Keeping Score I read this description: The library at Grand Army Plaza was one of Maggie’s favorite places. mom had taken her there ever since she was a baby; the library had opened the same year Maggie was born. One of their regular outings, with Maggie in the baby carriage and Joey-Mick toddling alongside, had been a walk through Prospect Park to the enormous building at the north end, its entry flanked by huge columns and framed with gilded ironwork. They would walk throughout the big doors and pick out books and read and have a nice rest until it was time to go home again.
As I read this passage I was sideswiped by puzzle pieces of memory. One piece is covered in gravel and concrete as I stepped from the curb up into the shared space of a TriMet bus. This piece snaps to the one that takes me down the road from Aloha to Hillsboro and drops me off at the tree shaded library building nestled in a green oasis against the backdrop of city traffic and strip malls. There are pieces that include picnics and park play. Several pieces fit together to shape the glass case which held the reward books. I walked past these each week with my arms stacked with books, debating my eventual choice. At the end of each summer reading challenge I chose a new book of my own from that case.
The edge pieces frame this puzzle securely. My Nurse Mom worked in the summers of my elementary school years and my Teacher Dad was in charge. Dad fixed my brother, sisters & me hot dogs and macaroni for lunch on alternating days. And he took us on public transportation to the adjacent city to participate in the summer reading program. Sometimes my Grandma, who lived nearby, joined us.
There were a lot of holes in this puzzle as I fit it together and it’ll surely be the topic of future family conversations as I hunt for some missing pieces, but nonetheless I know what the box top picture looks like. It’s a snapshot of my early summer reading experiences at the public library. I don’t remember any performances or crafts as part of the program. Just opportunity and incentive to immerse myself in stories. And I was lucky to have a Dad who made this a priority in our family life.
As he sets his excellent memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian, into the framework of a library, Josh Hanagarne writes: “Libraries have shaped and linked the disparate threads of my life.” Truth.
I could tell my story using libraries as physical markers. My childhood home library was filled with books stamped “Discard” because my dad spent some of his teaching years as school librarian. The smell of a school library is etched in the depths of my being. My first work-study job was in my college library. David and I met in a library and spent hours of early conversations there. I served on the board of a remarkable small town library while it struggled(s) to grow programs and adequately serve its population amidst difficult economic times and difficult city politics. I believe public libraries and public school libraries are critical for the good of the social order.
But for me it’s not really about the structure of library. (Though I realize that matters for the next statement to be true.) It’s about the stories I find there. Frederick Buechner said, “The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all” and from the movie Shadowlands, this quote: “We read to know we’re not alone.”
The boys and I finished reading Keeping Score but I find myself continuing to think about Maggie’s story, the little girl who faithfully followed the Brooklyn Dodgers and kept detailed game scores through repeated “close but not quite” pursuits for the title in the early 1950s. Meanwhile her friend Jim returned from Korea with PTSD and couldn’t re-engage his life. Maggie struggled to keep on – as a faithful Dodgers fan and as a friend in a one-sided friendship with Jim.
….Every game, every inning, every play – really, every pitch she had recorded in the book had been a chance to hope for something good to happen.
She shook her head and almost smiled. Dodger fans probably had more practice at hoping than fans of any other team. The same thing over and over again, but always different.
Prayers were like that, too. Her bedtime prayers – saying almost the same thing each night, but feeling a little different sometimes, depending on what she was praying for……Maybe praying was another way to practice hope.
If that was true, then between the Dodgers and praying, she ought to be getting awfully good at hoping.
Maggie sighed. What’s the use of getting good at it? Hope doesn’t do anything.
Another voice spoke up inside her head. But hope is what gets everything started. When you make plans, it’s because you hope something good is going to happen. Hope always comes first.
Dreams, Loss, Frustration and Fear. There it is. Maggie’s story is in some measure my story and in some measure the story of us all. At the point when she despairs of her efforts and plans made out of hope her friend Treecie challenges her to Keep On: “How do you know it doesn’t make a difference in the end?”
We read to know we’re not alone. And with Maggie, I pray to practice hope.