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A Boyhood Spent Among the Books

My boyhood library, where I drank medium deep from the Pierian Spring, is about to have a new home, being at last driven from its once-shady glen by the increasing encroachment of parking lots and big business.

The new site, selected after what seems to be "considered input," will be delightfully serene in the rear of the Baptist Church and appropriately behind the J. B. Randall house.

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Once upon a time, if I remember aright, Mr. Randall was chairman of the committee that bought library books, and he always said that he never bought a book he couldn't, in good conscience, read himself. It was Mr. Randall, I'm sure, who insisted the Mother West Wind stories have priority.

This was a Carnegie Library, and while none of us sprouts who used the facility were ever briefed on the generosity of Mr. Carnegie, neither were we instructed on the life and affairs of Mr. B. H. Bartol, a community hero of the bygone who was on the sign over the door and presumably immortalized, but we didn't know what for.

Because the library would help with my schoolwork, I was taken there on the third day of June, 1918, by my father, who never finished grade school himself, to sign up for the library card. There I met Miss Annette Aldrich, librarian, and at 70-odd the unmarried daughter of sea captain Aldrich, a blue-water man who distinguished himself with "tainted" vessels, but nobody said so. Miss Annette presided over the town's reading, and mine.

THE number of volumes was small, but I guess it was a better-than-average town library for those days. I did not borrow a book on that first encounter.

Miss Aldrich showed my father and me through the building, and gave her little lecture about the Privateer Dash, pointing at the hawk's-nest builder's model of the Dash on the wall. Perhaps the most remarkable of our nation's fighting vessels, the Dash knew no equal in speed, and never took an enemy shot. Built in town and sailed by a local crew, after an incredible career she sailed on one more foray, and was lost with all hands off Nova Scotia. Old-timers believed her own speed brought on her end.

On my next visit, alone, to Mr. Bartol, Mr. Carnegie, and Miss Aldrich, the lady taught me for all time that libraries lend books, and the word "loan" is a noun. And she persuaded me to take home a new book that had just arrived, tales of Mother West Wind. She said she thought it would be just my age.

When I got home, I noticed that I was the first to borrow this book, stamped with the date, and a page or two convinced me it was not exactly my age. I left it on the kitchen shelf. And at suppertime my dad came into the kitchen, saw the book, lifted it, and said, "What's this for?"

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"When I was your age," he shouted, "I was halfway through 'Eddie-Puss,' and about to start the 'Punic Wars'! If you want to find out about Mother West Wind, step out on the front porch." My dad was no scholar and had never read beyond the introduction to a seed catalog, but he made his point. That evening after supper I walked to the library, no short distance, to return Mother West Wind and get something to read.

Miss Aldrich, very cool, showed me the library rules, which said a book may not be returned on the same day it is taken out. I don't know why, and she didn't say. I had to wait over Sunday, and then I borrowed Washington Irving's "Sketch Book" and became a bookworm.

My father would read some of every library book I borrowed, and never again had cause to censor or censure my selections. My dad got his schooling with me, except for all he knew before he knew me. I never did catch up.

One long shelf of Miss Aldrich's library was reserved for the still-popular novels of Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth. It was an imposing array, originally with two copies of each novel. Curiosity tempted me, and I read a chapter of the first on the shelf. Miss Aldrich said the books still came and went, but not as they once did. She said sometimes every E.D.E.N. Southworth book would be out at once.

Fact was, copies got lost, and at 35 cents a copy to replace them, she had a budget problem. Mr. Randall, she said, was helpful, and suggested not buying any more E.D.E.N. Southworth. "But alas!" said Miss Aldrich, "We can't do that!" Miss Aldrich is the only person I ever heard say alas.

I thought my father and I would never get through "Moby Dick." I'd read some, and then go back to savor it again. Then Dad would do the same (after I'd gone to bed) and we'd talk about it. I believe I renewed the book three times, and Miss Aldrich kept tabs on our progress.

Eager to get away from the commercialized center of town, the library committee has selected a new site within inches of my boyhood home. The Baptist Church that I speak of burned some years back, but in my library days I could, and did, hit the solemn bell in the steeple with horse chestnuts from my David slingshot, with which I was adept but slew only mythical giants and active church bells. Citizens did wonder why that bell sometimes went bong all by itself. Another Goliath!

I hope to visit the new library in due time. Miss Aldrich will not be there, so with impunity I can return a long-overdue copy of "The Maiden Widow" by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth. And then run.

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