My childhood was a world without computers, television, videos and DVDs. With few books in our home, I had a thirst for stories. I longed to visit the town library, and dreamed of the books that were waiting there for me… but getting those books wasn’t so easy.
The library was one room, which seemed huge to me. It was upstairs in the School Of Arts building in the main street. On Fridays, when my mother took me to help her with the weekly shopping, I’d step through the front door into the stairwell in the hope of breathing in the scent of the conglomeration of old books. I looked up the stairs lustfully, knowing the aroma would be stronger and the books more real if only I could rush up and into the room.
Mum’s voice brought me back to reality. ‘Come on, Kate. We can’t get the pram up there.’ There was never a suggestion of leaving the pram downstairs, because ‘someone might steal it’. And Mum couldn’t wait with the pram while I went alone, because in the library ‘children must be accompanied by an adult at all times’.
My only other option for getting up those stairs and into the room of words, was to convince my father to take me on Saturday mornings. This posed another difficulty, because he followed the horse races and was afraid of missing useful information if he took his ear from the radio while scratchings were being announced. Besides, he saw library books as a distraction from the more important school books. On the rare occasions I managed to coerce him to take me, he paced just inside the room signaling to me to hurry. Mostly, I didn’t get to choose books – I just grabbed the first four I saw, regardless of their appropriateness or my interest, for fear of running out of time and missing out altogether.
I read these books regardless of what they were – over and over again in the first couple of days – and then waited patiently for the next possible library visit. I was disappointed when the books were returned while I was at school, because I knew there was no intention to take me to select more at any time soon.
I wasn’t allowed to read the magazines my mother scrimped and saved to buy, and remember only glimpsing Grandma’s magazines on the one occasion she took me into her usually out-of-bounds sunroom. We sat on two stacks of the magazines, while she flicked through the top few from the third stack, looking for a recipe to cook for dinner. I felt special, like I’d been led into a secret passage, and will cherish that memory until the day I die.
The other source of intrigue for us children was the old traveller’s trunk, which housed Mum’s treasures. Among these were her assignment books from high school and teachers’ college. This trunk was rarely opened and only ever by Mum. Then we watched in awe and sat on our hands to avoid succumbing to the temptation to touch the sacred pages. As a young student, I was fascinated by the idea of my mother as a child in school uniform and then later as a teacher. She was so different from the nuns who taught me, even though one of them was her second cousin.
Do you remember your first visit to a library?
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