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Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

The Thanksgiving Day newspaper landed on the lawn, causing small seismic tremors with its load of advertising inserts. Thick colored booklets from all of the major retailers spread out on the dining room table, advertising sales that would begin in the early evening and run through the night. The black ink of Friday seeped into the calendar page of Thursday, like Marley’s ghost dragging its chain of debt.

When I was a boy in south Florida, I spent each October and November poring over the Sears Christmas catalog with my brother and sister. We would lie on the floor of the old stone house hidden among fruit trees, with our heads together, skipping quickly past the clothing ads and into the bright colored toy section. There were the treasures I longed for, double holstered cap guns, space stations, baseball gloves, and plastic castles with one hundred knights on horseback, all arranged to capture a boy’s imagination. It was an early training in consumerism.

So, I thumbed through every page of every newspaper catalog Thanksgiving morning, but nothing stirred my imagination. I did not see myself in the skinny jeans or wearing the noise cancelling headphones or tapping the screen of the iPad. I did not want to wait in the late hours of the evening at the door of a big bright store with a crowd of other well-trained consumers. But I was not above it all – no, I wanted my Black Friday, too.

That morning my family got up in shifts based on age, first me, then my wife, then much later the older daughter, followed, after much coaxing, by her teenage sister. By this time, Black Friday had been ongoing for about nine hours. We thought downtown State College, with the students gone for the holiday, would be less hectic, and we were not disappointed. The sidewalks were mostly uncluttered and the shoppers unhurried. Families stopped to look in windows, nobody pushed or cursed. The clerks were unharried.

We ate a leisurely breakfast at the Waffle Shop across from campus, then wandered for an hour among the shops on College Avenue. There were many things I admired, but none that I longed for. We all seemed on the same wavelength, if I read my wife and daughters right. This year we are hoping to save toward a special trip in the future, and the British Isles seem more glistening than ear rings. We bought a few stocking stuffers and thought of England.

My mother always liked to imagine she would take her extended family on a trip to England some day. She wanted to walk among those places she had read about in novels and poetry, the Lake Country of the Romantic poets, the London streets of Dickens, Walter Scott’s misty hills. The years came and went, and she grew too old to climb the hills. It was a sad day when she told us we would have to go on our own without her. But England would remain, green and perfect in her imagination.

We ended the day, as we often do, in the library. There the gifts were all on the shelves, and we plucked them like gold apples, eager and greedy. They were gifts of the imagination for this alternative Black Friday, and we sat in the warm library and read for hours.

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Standing on a series of walkways spanning the cliffs of Savannah, my younger daughter gazes off toward the library we have not yet discovered (Click on image to enlarge).

Savannah was built on the cliffs overlooking the Savannah River, and most of the town is built up much higher than the river. To get from the cliffs above, down to the shops and restaurants along the riverwalk below, we took either curving cobblestone streets or plunging alleys, or else the staircases that descended steeply here and there at various places along Bay Street.

On one of those occasions when we were looking for a stairway to get down to the river, we came across a series of elevated walkways that hung above one of the descending streets. At the end of one walkway, we were surprised to find a library, tucked among shops providing tourists the things they want to buy on vacation, like trolley tickets and sunglasses and praline candies.

My whole family has an addiction for libraries, and my older daughter has just taken this love to the extreme and finished her bachelor’s degree in library science this year, so we had no choice but go in.

It was just a small branch library, open a couple of hours a day in the afternoons and not at all on the weekends. It was only by chance that we found them open at all. It was called the Ola Wyeth Library, after some old sainted lady of the town, I suppose. It was a single long narrow room with a couple of patrons sitting out of the heat and two middle-aged lady librarians, helpful as librarians invariably are.

It seems like every town or city I’ve ever visited I’ve stopped at their library, and often that was the highpoint of my visit. This was no exception. It was like walking into a friend’s house and meeting other old friends, shelves and shelves full of old friends.

They had a few dozen retired books for sale on a shelf near the front door, and there I found on sale for a dollar, a classic science fiction book from the fifties that I had long desired to reread. James Blish’s Cities in Flight is a four-book series about the far future when antigravity devices lift entire cities into space from a dying Earth. It’s a space opera mixed with shrewd commentary on politics and society, and a lot of scientific speculation that is still remarkably not outdated.

I have been rereading the collected novels, and at a quarter apiece, they are the best value of my vacation. The memory of the little library in the sky will linger long after the trolley tours are forgotten and the pralines are all consumed. The libraries always are open when I visit them again in my mind.

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