Learning is Everything


From the Pinterest Blog. by Murray Library, Words for Readers

Sometimes my childhood was tough, marked by poverty, one alcoholic parent, and one who was at times cruel. But my father did one thing for me for which I’ll always be grateful to him: Every Saturday morning he took me to the library. From the time I was a toddler, I would tag along with him.

By age eight I had read every book in the children’s section of our smallish county library (Some multiple times, of course, because Louisa May Alcott and some others were my lifeline for so long.) That fact and my father’s request led the librarian to let me into the adult stacks. What a halcyon moment. I remember with clarity sitting on the floor at the end of a stack with two books that had called to me from the shelves. On my lap, Margot Fonteyn leapt into Swan Lake en pointe, inside a volume about ballerinas. I had never seen anything so lovely, and I stared at her for a long time. On the next page, Maria Tallchief, Cherokee like my great-grandmother, spun in the most exquisite pose. My fingers traced the impossibly tense, yet supple, arc of her spine.

The other book was about something wholly new to me: poetry! The Collected Works of Emily Dickinson thrilled me to chills. Here was someone who saw the world much as I did, even at eight. Minute, endless details of loveliness, heartache, and joy. I wanted to memorize every word, and I very nearly did. That year, I was given the honor of helping the principal put together the spring bulletin board near the front door of our school. “What do you think we should do with it, Glenda?” (Blessings on adults who ask children what they think, rather than constantly direct them.) The words tumbled from my mouth almost before I myself caught their meaning:

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

–Emily Dickinson

Saturday morning still doesn’t feel right unless I head to the Library. Although I’m away from home, I know where the local institution is. I think I’ll amble over there now.

Many thanks to Sophie Maier and Rachel the tech and all my friends at the Louisville Free Library’s Iroquois Branch for a lovely time at my book talk last Saturday.

Glenda at Louisville’s Iroquois Library

Greenville’s Best 2: My “Safe Place” Library

Sometimes my family life was a bit tumultuous and frightening. When things were dark, I would start walking in one direction: uptown to the Greenville County Library that used to sit at the head of Main Street. I would get lost there for hours. Most Saturdays, for most of my life, my Dad would take me there, too, if the mills weren’t running and he didn’t have to work. Looking back, I see that this is most of what I gained from my father: the love of reading. And that is a big gift, which has seen me through many hard times since then.

I couldn’t find a photo of that old library. If anyone has one, I’d love to see it. I remember red brick and dark wood and the heavenly smell of the card catalogue.

Years later, in the 1960s, when Jesse Jackson, Jr, sued the Library District for not letting him and other Black people into the stacks––he had come home from the University of Illinois Library and needed to finish a paper––I remember thinking, how could anyone deny anyone a library? I was privileged to be allowed there, and I’m glad everyone is allowed, now.

As a teenager, when my Dad was often working and I had to walk there myself––yes, all the way from the Welcome community––mHughesMain_415aybe five miles?––When I had a few cents I would stop––you know what? I’ll tell you Saturday.

For now, admire the new Hughes Main Library and tell me about your own early reader experiences. See you!

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