Public Exposure

I’ve had an affair for years. It dates back to weekly trips to the Somers (Connecticut) Free Public Library and continues today with the delightful Groton Public Library. Libraries hold the possibility of great discovery with the sharp edge of knowing you will never know all they hold.

Each week, my mother would load our super-sized family into the station wagon and head over to Main Street. A Victorian building, the library was painted gray with white trim and had bay windows and alcoves that created nooks inside. It was nestled in lush rhododendrons, its own secret garden. We would tumble out of the station wagon and spill into the sanctum that was ruled by a woman barely five feet tall. Mrs. Sargeant. My mother would often stay in the car, catching a respite from her brood.

By third grade, I would head to the young adult section to find Nancy Drew, Hardy boys and the like. I also found the tragic story of Black Beauty there. I read all the books before I turned to “adult” reading. At my mother’s suggestion, I checked out Agatha Christie. That resulted in my first run-in with Mrs. Sargeant.

“Does your mother know you’re reading this?”

Me looking her in the eyes, timid but acting brave “Yes. She suggested it.”

She pursed her lips–incongruous because she wore bright red lipstick. She also had a habit of chewing gum, which I found strange because as visitors we weren’t allowed to chew gum. Without another word, she flipped to the sign-out page and stamped the return date.

Week by week I worked my way through Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, savoring the way his Belgium name rolled around in my mouth.

Our family had a love-hate relationship with the library because we frequently lost track of books and had to pay the 2 penny daily overdue fine.

Since the passing of my parents, I mostly only go back to Somers for funerals. I’d heard that the library, or the building that originally housed it, had been moved. The functioning libary had long since relocated to a modern brick building in a complex adjacent to the schools, west of the center. I went looking for my library. It had been rescued by preservationists. I wanted to be able to open the door and step into the nooks of books, the wonder of more than I could ever know. The secret garden building sat on a bare patch, stripped of the rhododendrons, now home to the historical society. I grabbed a picture with my cell phone, but it was a sad snapshot of a much richer memory.

Now, I live once again in a small town with a Main Street library. There is no frightening head librarian–just a friendly staff who organize events, nourish young readers, and anchor the public literary arts for us all. Last year, I was invited as a guest of the Mystery Book Club, discussing October Run. I’m still wary of fines, but I’m thinking it’s time to become a card-carrying member again.

One thought on “Public Exposure

  1. Nice piece Betsy. Thank you for your kind words and relaying your positive experience at your Library. I put your words on our FB page and I do hope and will enjoy many wonderful times at GPL–including getting a library card.
    Owen Shuman
    the hopefully non-scary library director

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