Sunday, November 16, 2008

Library Memories: Special Patrons

Although my mind is still categorized and shelved in the same way as the Moweaqua Public Library was all those years ago, it's not just the books that stick in my mind. Many of the people do, too. I've already talked about one patron in my post last week, and from the lack of comments, I'm wondering if some of you weren't offended by it. After all, it was about a young girl checking out suggestive reading material with the librarians' knowledge. Perhaps some of you thought Mom should not have let Melinda check out that type of book, or that she should have at least said something to Melinda's mother. If Mom had said something to Melinda's mother, it would've stirred up a huge tempest in a teapot. The book was merely suggestive, not pornographic. Our library did not contain any pornographic books. For all Melinda's curiosity, she wasn't getting much information from the type of book she was reading!

Melinda isn't the only patron that sticks in my memory. There are the elderly ladies who came in each week to check out a brand-new batch of Grace Livingston Hills and other light romances. These ladies all wore thick support stockings and lace-up shoes from all the years of standing at their stoves making sure all their menfolk were fed. They had white hair gathered in buns at the back of their necks, and they smelled of lavender talcum powder or Avon's rose cologne. Just looking at them made me think of cookies, pies and treadle sewing machines. For the most part, these ladies called ahead and had me choose their books for them, declaring to everyone when they arrived that no one could choose better books for them than I. Getting hugs from these ladies was like being smothered in the softest of pillows.

The man who worked for the village making sure that all the roads were in good shape stopped by almost every day that the library was open. He didn't have much education, and the job he had made sure that his clothes were filthy most of the time. Those two reasons and a couple of others made people tend to stay away from him, but Mom and I liked him. He kept a close eye on those jacks in the basement that were holding up the library floor, and he always treated us as if we were honored members of his family. You can't get much better than that.

Another man also comes to my mind, but for an entirely different reason. He was a grumpy old farmer known for (1) never tipping a waitress at the cafe in town, (2) never looking for oncoming traffic when he reversed out of a parking space, and (3) never having a good word to say to anyone. He tended to check books out in the winter when there wasn't so much to do out on his farm. Mom and I always knew that the books would be defaced when he brought them back. What did he do? As he read, if he came across any word he thought was a swear word or "dirty", he drew a thick line through that word with a black marker. Then he'd take a Bic pen and, inside the back cover of the book, he would write the page number and the word that he'd crossed out. Mom and I could never figure out why he went to all the trouble of marking through the word only to notate it in the back. Mom told him to stop several times, but gave up because it was obvious that the ornery old fart wasn't going to listen to her. He never checked out popular titles, or he would've found himself being banned from the library.

There was another man who liked to pop into the library to spread any bad news he'd happened to hear--especially if anyone had died. His name became synonymous with Bad News. If people saw him leaving the library, they'd hurry in, asking "Who died?"

There was a lady who was a great reader, but wouldn't check out any book that weighed over a pound because if it did, it would be too heavy to hold while she read in bed. She was a strange duck and counted Mom as a great friend since they'd both been widowed at a young age. Although I was much the same age as the woman's daughter, I seldom could get more than a word or two from the girl. A visit from those two always bothered Mom and me in some undefinable way. During one nasty cold winter, the woman didn't come to the library for a couple of weeks. Just as Mom said something to me about her absence, someone came in and told us that she'd given her daughter an overdose of pills and then killed herself. Thinking about those two still fills me with sadness.

Last but not least was the lady in town who was thrilled when Mom created the genealogy section. This lady had been working on her family tree for quite some time, and she loved to come in on the days we stayed open in the evenings. She'd sit in a chair by Mom's desk and regale Mom with tales of her particular an ancestor known as Poker Armstrong. She was so proud of Poker that you'd think he was George Washington and Abraham Lincoln all rolled into one. Whenever Mom looked out the plate glass window and saw that woman's Caddy pull into a parking space in front of the library, she'd sigh and put on her Company Face. I would take the opportunity to grab an armload of books to shelve or to pick up the duster...anything so I wouldn't get drawn into the conversation.

One evening before the lady came in, I told Mom that I'd noticed something she did every time Poker Armstrong's name was mentioned. Mom would ball her right hand into a fist and push it against her desk blotter very slowly, right where the palm of her hand joined her wrist. Mom wasn't aware of doing it, but to me it was a neon sign shouting how sick of Poker Armstrong she was. Sure enough, here the woman came that evening, and the pleasantries had barely been exchanged before she started in with Poker Armstrong this...Poker Armstrong that. From my vantage point, I leaned out to look at Mom. Sure enough, there that fist was, slowly making its way up the desk blotter. Mom saw me out of the corner of her eye, and I grinned at her. After the lady left, I caught some flak for making Mom's life more difficult. Not only did she have to remember about her fist and the desk blotter, but she had to keep a straight face as well!

Remembering those long ago patrons is comforting. I can see them as clearly as though they're standing right in front of me in the here and now. Growing up in that library was a very special experience, but it would not have been nearly as special without the people coming in the door each and every day.


  1. Another great essay, Cathy!

    I smiled along with you at the tale of the man who censored the books, and the woman with Poker Armstrong in her family tree.

    Sad story about the woman and daughter; that would definitely stay with you.

    Thanks again for sharing your library memories!

  2. You're welcome, Dawn. I'm glad you're enjoying the series!

  3. What a quirky cast of characters, I think it would have been so interesting to live in a small town where everyone was familiar.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!