Thursday, February 14: Something Borrowed

One of the most persistent early memories I have is a photographic snippet of sitting between my parents on a brightly upholstered couch in our cramped hometown library, the three of us comparing our books before we check out. My age isn’t certain. It definitely reads as pre-school though I’m verbal and locomoting independently, picking out my own books by myself, probably in the range of four to five years old.

It’s somewhat of an oddity because it involves both parents at the same time, in a setting external to our shabby old house, and it’s cozy and happy. That’s probably why I’ve held onto it. My early family life was far from awful but neither was it routinely as warm and fuzzy as this memory, everybody happy at the same time, united in a shared activity. I was an exceptionally solitary child. I had only one sibling, ten years older than me. The two of us and both parents were all our own separate islands. Four solitary people, most comfortable left to ourselves, in our own heads, we were usually occupied with our own concerns and activities.

One of those was reading. I wasn’t one of those kids that learned to read at some extraordinarily early age, but this memory isn’t the only one that involves books. They were always there, even before I could read myself. My mother used me as an excuse to re-read and re-experience books she had enjoyed before, some of which weren’t ‘regular’ kids books. I remember especially listening to her read Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to me at bedtime, and not that abridged Disney shit, either. Probably as a result of that, when I did start reading on my own, I was drawn to what I called “the real books,” as opposed to the standard illustration-heavy kiddie fare. I remember this especially because my parents had to sign a form at the library that allowed me to check out “grown up” material. The real books.

My first library card number was 333. As an adult, in whatever town I’ve settled, one of the first things I do is check out the library and get a card. So I’ve had a number of library cards,most of them impersonal, plastic or laminated, nothing to which I felt much of a connection, certainly not like the one I had to that original #333.

I had that card till just a few years ago. That was around the time when my sister and I became concerned about my mother’s mental health but were paralyzed with uncertainty about whether it was “really time” to step in and take charge. Anyone who’s gone through that with a parent knows what I’m talking about: making the decision to terminate a parent’s independence is a life-altering transition for the adult child as well.

I went down and lived with her for a month to assess the situation and discovered that we probably should have taken action much earlier. Still, my sister and I procrastinated and delayed, neither of us willing to move into the next phase. I spent a lot of time at the library during this limbo. The librarians always made a big fuss when I pulled out my old handwritten card with just three digits.

Time has moved on, my mother’s no longer with us, and I have no idea where that library card ended up. I have a card for the library where I live now, once again a small town, technically a “village.” I don’t know a lot of people in this place, but I’ve made acquaintances here and there. Interestingly enough, I almost always bump into at least one every time I go to the library. I was in the Fourth of July parade with my naturalist group and the lovely older woman dressed as Mother Nature on our float is one of the volunteer librarians. I don’t remember her actual name but it seems fitting that if Mother Nature has to have a day job, it should be in a library.

I went to the library tonight for the first time since late December. I had a pile of books checked out over my holiday break and I didn’t take them back on time. They don’t charge fines at this library, depending instead on good intentions and the guilt of the patrons to get the books back on time. I’ve been in a bit of slump since the new year started, busy but pulled in several directions at once, and just letting myself get swept along, not paying attention to smaller, necessary things like housekeeping, yardwork and errands. And taking back the library books.

Once we connect personal associations to objects, they can take on a power over us. The books sat there on the side table, and I’d think I needed to get them back, then I’d think about my old library card, and my mother and that early memory, then I’d quickly move on. Sometimes it wasn’t that involved, I’d just think, “Damn, I have got to take those books back … and maybe vacuum and dust.” The little zone of inertia that started with those books, then cleaning, eventually encompassed the Netflix dvds and a couple of non-essential pieces of mail.

I actually used this post as an excuse to finally take the damn books back to the library tonight. Abruptly, without forethought, I stopped as I was walking past them after dinner and just grabbed them up in a stack, picked up my keys and called the dogs. I drove the four miles to town with the windows down, letting the dogs bark their excess energy out the window, as the moon peeked through the tree branches sweeping by. It’s a waxing moon but it was bright tonight and the wind was up, and the air that swept through the windows was cool and clean.

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