In my mind, it’s Saturday, September 11, 1964. My family had just moved into base housing on Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. Dad had my little brother and me got in our beautiful metallic turquoise 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 car. Our destination was the base library. We have set off on a short drive to get my brother and me our first library card.
The librarian was unlike anyone I had ever met or seen. The kids called her the “bun lady.” She wore the stereotypical hair in a bun. She kept her spectacles on a chain, infrequently wearing them. Her work uniform was a long covered up dress. She always had a worried expression. Her right arm had a nervous twitch where her hand frequently jerked toward her mouth and the pointer finger extended across her lips to signify “Shush!” It seemed “shush” was the most common word she spoke.
The “bun lady” gave us a tour of the library. We had the Dewey Decimal System explained. We visited the book stacks with the children’s, science fiction, history and biography books. She showed us the location of the “necessary rooms” as she called them in case we should need to do what all people do, but rarely admitted to doing, especially back in 1964.
I remember dad had us walk back to our house from the library. He made sure we knew the way home and made it safely.
We visited the library several times a week. It was a twenty-minute walk to the library. We always had adventures en route to the library, but not so much on the trip home. We couldn’t wait to get back to the house. At home, we could dip into the exploits between the book’s covers. Mother always had hours of quiet time after we returned with books.
I still remember how hush-hush the libraries were back then. It seemed all speech ended at the door. There were no computers in libraries in the 1960’s. No one was sending text messages or taking pictures on a cell phone. I can still hear the swishing of card catalog drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book cart’s wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. They were some of my favorite sounds.
I recall all those book spines announcing the titles covered with the plastic covers. I would walk down the aisles looking, gawking. I would dream of my name being there – someday.
Suddenly, there they were. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. I think I heard Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah Chorus when I found these books. I started reading both. I have been a fan of Bradbury and science fiction since that time.
I checked the books out. I still remember the “bun lady’s” pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it instead of an eraser. There was a pocket glued in the front of the book. In it was a card. She took the card out of the pocket. Next, she wrote my name down on that card stamping it with the due date. She filed it away. She then stamped the due date on the slip of paper inside the pocket glued to the front page of the book. I had the books for two weeks. Two adventurous weeks!
At home, I would retire to my bedroom and read for hours. In my mind, I would be it the cupola orchestrating the lights of the town turning off at night. I would experience the rocket winter of traveling from Ohio to Mars.
I journeyed to all those places for free in books. The base library became a favorite destination for me. Libraries are still a place of refuge and solitude for me and hundreds of military brats.
I wrote my first published article in the library at The University of Texas at Arlington in 1974. On a rainy September afternoon in 1981 at Emory University’s library in Atlanta, Georgia I wrote the first draft of my first professional magazine article sale.
While today the Internet may bring information into my home, the library is still the sacred shrine for me and many writers. I was in the Los Angeles Public Library and the UCLA library a few years ago. I could see the Ray Bradbury of the 1940s inserting a quarter for another 30 minutes of typing in the pay typewriter. Those still existed when I was in college and seminary.
Nearly a decade ago I was in the Vicksburg, Mississippi Public Library and learned that Winston Groom (author of Forest Gump) was there researching a book on the Vicksburg Campaign of the Civil War.
Just last week I watched a video by Joanna Penn. She was showing where she writes in the London Public Library. She said this was the very spot where Charles Dickens wrote as well as Agatha Christie.
I still smile when I reflect on that Saturday in September 1964 when I got my first library card. I still have a library card. The library along with a bookstore are my favorite places to escape the world. I believe the library still holds a key role for the writer.
Originally published on March 2, 2015 on Author Culture.
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