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Shirley, my lady of lore

Your attention is now called to the fact that Franklin County is in Maine. It is a place of decision, as follows: If you are a raindrop in the vast systems of nature, and you are hovering in the sky, about to fall, and you come down into Franklin County, you have a choice, for Franklin County contains a height of land, and you can elect to drain one way or the other.

If you incline ever so little to magnetic North, you will flow into the Rangeley Lakes watershed and bide a long time in a considerable galaxy of lakes and ponds with gracious names like Cupsuptic, Umbagog, and Richardson South Arm. Then you'll be coasting along immersed in the affairs of the Androscoggin River, which is now in New Hampshire. But the river soon recognizes the folly of this and comes back into Maine to ramble toward the Atlantic Ocean. It flows at last into Merrymeeting Bay and for a moment I leave you there, wet and weary.

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If, however, you decide at Franklin County to lean a mite southerly, you will find yourself in the Sandy River watershed. You will soon be going swoosh over Small's Falls, where vacationing folks from Indiana - in season - will snap your picture as you make a considerable cascade. You are on your way to the Atlantic via the Kennebec River.

If you elect the Kennebec route, you will pass through the town of New Sharon. If you look to the right as you pass it, you will see my favorite reference librarian, Shirley Grunert Martin, sitting resolutely in her gift retirement chair. If you wave to her she may, perhaps, shout back the population of Istanbul.

You will now flow into the beautiful Kennebec River and continue with the Androscoggin at Merrymeeting Bay, which is sort of where you started. You've had a bit of a trip, but you waved at Shirley.

I knew Shirley when she, not I, was a small girl, and I didn't know she was smart. After she became a reference librarian), I felt she needed adult supervision. So I became her only friend, eager to see her succeed and willing to give my time to thinking up frivolities for her attention, such as who invented mothballs, what is red-oak sap good for, and where are the Dire Straits?

Shirley never failed me. And since she was a librarian for the U of Maine, her answers were reliable and inexpensive. All you good people who have supposed, all these years, that I am sapient and loaded with lore deserve to be undeceived now and learn that Shirley was ever poised behind me, finger on the Xerox, with the recipe for a Brunswick Stew, the size of a billiard ball, the temperature of the hard-crack stage in candymaking, and a few times with answers to questions I hadn't sent yet.

I'm sure I've laid eyes on Shirley but once in her library career, but the way I remember her is as a pig-tailed miss on a bike waving as she took the turn by my raspberry patch. The university, Shirley writes, gives every retiree an armchair. I told her to take two.

Shirley also tells me that before she retired, the university was conducting interviews to find her successor. A successor to Shirley? Come on, U of M!

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Perhaps folks who have no, or slight, need for "reference" information won't understand just how important it is, and how we depend on librarians.

One day I was pounding away here and came up against an absolute blank. What is the cow-country word for the bunch of horses taken on a roundup? I knew the word like the palm of my hand, but I was balked. I went through the alphabet twice. Then I dialed the Monitor's reference library and said, "What d'you call the gaggle of nags...?

He said, "A remuda."

I said, "Offhand, like that?"

He said, "No, I had time to look it up while you were asking."

I asked Shirley once about Chinese howood, and her reply included all available information about South American rain forests. Her average turnaround time on important questions like that is next morning's mail.

Sure, they'll replace Shirley, and if necessity calls I shall drop a note to ask if Italian honeybees can work Midlothian vetch. I'm sure I'll get an answer. It will lack Shirley's addenda, which have made the difference.

But wait! Here is her addendum to her note about retiring! She says she plans to keep in touch, and can still look up things for me. "It will take a bit longer, is all, and I won't have a free copy machine."

So do not despair! Things are not altogether kaput! If you read here shortly that evidence of counterfeiting has been found in the basement of Monticello, it merely means Shirley and I are still doing business. If she says so, it's true.


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