Sunday, October 25, 2020

All Those Wasted Years

You would have thought I'd have gotten over it by now, but I haven't.  All the years I was in school, the only books I read were either text books or books as required reading for one specific course or another.
 
Now in the wisdom (ahem) of my later years, I'm a voracious reader.
 
So, why didn't I fill all those hours (years!) while in grade school, junior high, high school and beyond devouring book after book that interested me?
 
This may explain.
 
When I was growing up, nearly every elementary school had a good sized library as a part of the school building.  This was the "public library" that served all library patrons in the surrounding school district.  My childhood home was kitty-corner to the grade school I attended.  The library was in a bump-out wing of the school building with its own separate entrance.
 
I think I was about ten years old when one long summer day, I asked permission to go to the library thinking I might find a book to read to pass the time.
 
I had no idea how our neighborhood library was set up or just where I might find an interesting book in it, so once inside I started wandering around looking at shelf after shelf when Mrs. Ewing, the librarian, came up behind me and scared the bejeebers out of me by demanding asking in a not too friendly voice, "What are you looking for?"
 
Being a shy child, I'm sure I replied in an almost inaudible voice something to the effect of, "A book to read."
 
Mrs. Ewing then said (and I'll probably never forget her words or tone of voice), "Well, you're not supposed to be in this section.  Books for your age are over there."  She pointed to an alcove across from where I was standing.
 
Going to that area, the first books I saw were a series of biographies of famous people written for young readers.  I can still picture those books with the orange bindings lined up on the shelf.  I chose one and started to walk out of the library with it.
 
Oh, dear.  You can imagine my mortification when immediately accosted by the evil Mrs. Ewing.  Somehow, I managed to get signed up for a library card and leave with the book in my sweaty little hands.
 
A couple of days later, after reading the book and enjoying it immensely, I got up enough courage to venture into the library again and check out another one of the biographies.  I worked my way through every one of the series on the shelf, but never went back for any other books for fear of being reprimanded for straying out of the section I was supposed to be in.  (Did I mention I was very shy?)
 
The next library that gave me bad dreams was in my high school.  It was a very large library staffed by a husband and wife team, Mr. and Mrs. Whiteside.  They looked to be in their eighties (in reality probably only in their early sixties), were both short, squat, round and dour.  He was always dressed in a three-piece black suit, she in a black matronly dress.  They both had white hair.  He looked much like Winston Churchill.  So did she.
 
Upon entering the door to the library, Mr. Whiteside functioned as the official warden greeter, reminding you that there was to be no visiting while you were there, you were to find the material needed, take a set and be silent or check out your book, provided it was one that was allowed to be checked out, and immediately exit the premises.  (I'm not making this up, I promise.)  To say it was not an environment that encouraged young readers or anyone looking for materials that might further their education would be an understatement.
 
Fast forward several years to when I was first married and got up the gumption to give a library where I might find something interesting to read another try.  (I made my husband go with me.)  
 
We lived outside a small town which had a small but adequate library and, lo and behold, a librarian who couldn't have been more well-suited for her profession or helpful, pleasant and friendly.  Papa Pea and I started making one night a week our library night and spent happy hours browsing to our heart's content and checking out stacks of books that interested us.
 
That started my years of devouring books one after another.  To this day, I always have a book (I still prefer the kind with pages to turn and that you can actually hold in your hands) I'm reading (sometime two at once, but my mind isn't really strong enough to do that too often), and I always also have an audio book I'm listening to when doing less than stimulating tasks such as washing dishes or weeding in the garden.  
 
I have ready access to and can read as many books as I can find time for these days.
 
And yet, I still think of and bemoan all those formative pre-teen and teen years when I had the time to read as much as my little heart would have desired, but didn't.  What a waste.
 
A pox upon all men and women who choose library science as an occupation and should not, and blessings upon those who make the same choice but are able to present libraries and their books to children and everyone else in a way that opens for them the big, wide, wonderful world of reading. 

32 comments:

linnellnickerson@gmail.com said...

That's sad. When I was little my mom would take us to the library every Saturday. Actually we would walk the mile an a half to it and back. Mom was an avid reader. It was a wonderful place to be. It seem that everyone was so helpful. I love to read a lot ,now. xo

Mandy- Read. Write. Mom! said...

Oh goodness. As an elementary school librarian, reading this broke my heart. I’m so glad you finally had a great library experience to turn you into a big reader!

DFW said...

How sad. We didn't have a library in our little town but during the summer, a book mobile would come around weekly. Originally, the "driver' would always scowl when I wanted to check out a book that was out of my age range but he finally came around & let me check out whatever I was interested in. Except for a few years (in the 18 - 20 year range when I guess other things were more important), I've always had a book nearby. When I travelled for work, before ebooks, I would literally have heart palpatations if I didn't have a book to read on my airplane ride. I still love a paper turner, I buy many at Estate Sales but I will say that the Kindle saved my anxiety on more than one occasion on a plane. Forgot my book, well I'll just download another.

Susie said...

Oh I am sending that little shy girl a hug. I would have been the same way. Our mother always feared we would break something and never let us go to the library. My daughter joined reading clubs at our library and read a lot, still do. I always wanted my own encyclopedias. LOL. Blessings, xoxo, Susie

Mama Pea said...

linnellnickerson - Yeah, maybe a little bit sad, but we all have to learn how to function out in the world with all kinds of people. Besides reading, I sure had lots of other things to do during those years of my life. During my childhood (all those hundred+ years ago) we played outside a lot even in the winter time. And there were lots of board games. From an early age I indulged my hankering to create things with my hands and that became more pronounced as I grew up. Learning to knit when I was in college started me on a life-long skill that's always been enjoyable. So it wasn't as if I had nothing to do because of my lack of reading. It still seems like I missed out by not reading all during those years though. (Get out the teeny-tiny violins!) ;o)

Mandy - You're one of those librarians who should get a big gold star and be sprinkled with pixie dust regularly! :o)

Mama Pea said...

DFW - Oh, yes! During our first couple of decades of living here in Minnesota, we lived in a kinda remote area far from town. The bookmobile came on every other Monday and it was a wild, wonderful, crazy, social event for many of us. We all looked forward to it. What a treasure-filled vehicle that was. I currently have a friend who loves her Kindle. She always reads in bed at night before falling asleep and says the Kindle is so much more comfortable for her than holding a hefty book!

Susie - When our daughter was in grade school the kids could join a reading club from which they could order books very nominally priced and we always encouraged her to do so (even though money was very tight at the time). We passed a lot of those books on to younger kids when she outgrew them. Books, books, wonderful books! Now those sets of encyclopedias are definitely dinosaurs what with so much information at our fingertips on the Internet!

Rosalea said...

A pox indeed, on all those people who abuse the positions they are in! I got hooked on books in grade 4, when I had a wonderful teacher who was also the school librarian, Mrs. Shaw. Once a week she read aloud to the class, a chapter or so at a time. We looked forward to that special day. I then volunteered in the library, shelving books. (Remember all those little drawers of index cards in the card catalogue?) Our library here may be small, but I can get almost any book I want through inter-library loan. I have a Kindle, but very much prefer to hold a book in my hands. What a way to get lost without leaving home!!

Mama Pea said...

Rosalea - I remember one teacher in grade school who read aloud to us for a short period of time. It was during geography class (of all things) and it was a story that took place in the jungle of some far away country. We looked forward to those readings and loved them! Yes, I certainly do remember the card catalogs now relegated to dusty store rooms somewhere. I use our inter-library loan service which is fantastic. For sure a way to get lost without leaving home, but also a way to travel and learn about different countries and lives and . . . and . . . ! :o)

Goatldi said...

My experience was 180 degrees from yours. I in fact worked in my Junior High School library and went on to take my children from conception to the library where I read to them out loud. I adored books and reading because they were my ticket to ride from what life's realities were.

I also look at our perceived losses as pluses. For those events positive or negative made us who we are today.

I am glad to hear you are devouring the written word now.

coffeeontheporchwithme said...

Oh, Mama Pea, shame shame on those nasty old battle-axe librarians who made you feel so scared and unwelcome! We had a school librarian who was also a teacher and heaven forbid you forget to return your book on library day! I was very fortunate in that my parents bought books for me. I remember getting a new Nancy Drew mystery on Christmas day and then squirrelling away with it later in the day and almost finishing it. I read aloud to my students. Right now I'm reading, "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary. -Jenn

Leigh said...

There's an important message here for all aspects of life, about how important attitudes are in either encouraging or discouraging others. I was blessed that my parents encouraged reading, but I've been around people who scoff it. After you've heard "get your nose out of that book" for the zillionth time, it tends to change a reader into a non-reader.

Cockeyed Jo said...

My grandmother was a librarian on a small town so I grew up loving books and reading. One of the most proudest moments in my life was seeing my novel on the shelves of her library.

As an avid reader, it wasn't surprising that I became an story teller and author. One of my strongest laments I have of what I lost with my strokes is not the loss of my arm or leg, but the ability to read and understand fiction not write it anymore. I still read limited nonfiction, mostly reference material. Too many characters in biographies lose me.

Mama Pea said...

Goatldi - Your "ticket to ride from what life's realities were." How beautifully put. And, yes, after my husband read this post we fell into a discussion on just how all of our early life's experiences do have a profound effect on us. I've sure each and every one of us could remember (and possibly analyze!) events that formed us one way or the other.

Jenn - Your description of your Christmas Nancy Drew book brought back vivid memories to me of receiving a paint-by-number set one Christmas and hardly being able to wait through the hours until I could dive into it! My teacher husband read to his grade school kids as you do and he would describe the room full of third graders being silent as a church and in rapt attention when he did so. For your kids and his, it could very well have been the only time they were read to. How sad is that to think about?

Leigh - Why in the whole wide world would anyone be told to "get your nose out of that book?" Yes, I know it does happen. And that, too is sad. And dumb. And ridiculous. And stupid. (Shall I go on?) ;o)

Katie C. said...

The library is my home away from home. It was awful when it was first closed due to COVID. Now I do curb side pickup. The books are put in time out for 7 days when they are returned so everyone stays safe.

I believe that I got my reading habit from my mom who was always willing to take a trip to the library. I distinctly remember when we moved from NY to MA and I discovered the new library carried Nancy Drew books! I was over the moon!

It’s not just fiction either. I test run new cookbooks to see if they are worth buying. I, ahem, have a rather large collection.

Happy reading.

www.self-sufficientsam.blogspot.com said...

Well said! That happens way too often. We have a small library here and the librarian was awful...she hated children and didn't want them in the library and discouraged them as much as possible. She's since left, thank goodness but how many children did she discourage from reading before then. It's a crime! I'm so sorry you had the same experience several times too! I was fortunate to have had a wonderful town library and librarian when I was a child and have read all my life. I spent my summers reading....mostly outside under a tree or in one somewhere with my dog! LOL! So glad you didn't let the "ogres" dissuade you! What types of books do you like to read?

SmartAlex said...

Libraries always did and still do intimidate me. Fortunately, my mother never hesitated to BUY me a book so I got plenty of reading in anyway. Now I just have to battle my shortening attention span (I blame the internet). But the positive of the internet is anytime I have a question pop into my head I can research it immediately. During slow times at the office I can get pages deep into wikipedia until I fear I have finally reached the end of the internet. And I have a novel sitting here right now waiting for my morning reports to finish so I can get some quiet time

Myrna said...

I grew up with great Librarians both in school and the town library. The town librarian gave me a love of reading when she suggested starting with the first book on the first shelf and reading my way through. I was at the time in grade school. I still really prefer a book in my hand but will read a ebook if I have to.

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

Sad but atleast you got some kind of book! I think a lot of librarians back in those days were more about inventory and less about getting kids to read. As a former Elementary librarian in a high-poverty school I worked really closely with the teachers to make sure that kids got books they could read at their reading level. It was a warm and welcoming place and I head lots of kids coming in for books. I was always flexible about what kind of books kids could get as long as they could actually read it because in classrooms a lot of times they had to do research or book reports. It was all the sad when I had a first grader who was only reading at first grade level wanting to check out a fourth or fifth grade Harry Potter book. I finally had to talk to the teachers about that that sadly there was not a young readers version! I was one of the first libraries in Boise that started a preschool Library checkout system. It worked out great! I made a big bags with zip locks with the students first name and classroom teacher and the day the books were due. Considering most of these kids were special needs we had a very low loss rate. They love being read to and sometimes we watch TumbleBooks which were animated versions of the actual book that were narrated. I love my job but sadly could not afford to be paid for 8 months work over the course of 12 months so I actually had to quit. I miss it terribly but I'm really proud of the work I did there for 10 years. I brought in a huge amount of money for Grants after the recession hit we lost her budget and then I started teaching other librarian some teachers how to write grants too. In the long run it's really great to have kids in libraries and having them having fun finding books and exploring the world through them. And research studies show that children and adults get a deeper understanding and a longer-range memory of books when they read actual paper books. Turning the pages helps them have a physical Sensation that brings the book down on a deeper level. Wally books are nice and convenient you won't get the same level of understanding. I worked with a reading specialist and that data came up over and over and over again. Read on on sister!

Susan said...

Your description of your high school librarians had me laughing out loud! It is such a shame that people end up in jobs that they are not suited to. It obviously makes an impression (good, bad or ugly - or bad and ugly) for years. My mother took us to our little library every week and let us pick out three books each. It started a lifelong love of reading. The library in Cleveland, where I spent my formative years, was a beauty - all the staff were very encouraging and knowledgeable. I spent a day a week, picking out one book in each of three categories, and read them end on end. That was waaaay back, when my mind was orderly. Our local library here has a very unsuitable librarian. She is still there because everyone is afraid of her. What a difference it would make to the local kids, having someone who encourages, instead of glowering at them.

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

I should add too that I worked with full classes which was challenging in a high poverty school but I did the best I could. The main thing was to get all those children to really read and enjoy the process and learn where everything was in a library so they could be more self-sufficient and independent. I taught them Dewey Decimal!

Mama Pea said...

Katie C. - The system your library has gone to during COVID sounds much like ours. But I so much miss being in the library environment proper, as you do. I tend to read whole cookbooks like a novel. I think we must be much alike!

Sam - Librarians discouraging children from reading or using the library! Why do those situations exist?? Someone must realize what is happening, no? It's curious but during this time of upsetness and unease in our country (and world) I find I'm steering away from any books that contain trauma or conflict or violence or misery. I just can't handle it right now. Well written novels have always been a favorite along with what I guess you would call self-help books. I'm currently reading Maria Shriver's "I've Been Thinking . . . " for the second time. Such thought-provoking knowledge can be found in books!

SmartAlex - As much as I love them, I rarely purchase a book. (That doesn't count cook books though!) A book has to be fairly special in one way or another to me to buy it. And what did we do before the Internet for providing our own way of researching a topic? I'm old enough that I remember calling the library and requesting the answer to a question. I wonder if librarians ever get questions these days?

Myrna - I know there have always been more truly good librarians than bad ones. Thank heaven, and I'm glad you've had great experiences with them. That's the way it should be! :o)

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Mama Pea said...

Cockeyed Jo - I'm reading a novel right now which covers three generations of several families and skips back and forth from 1969 to 1930 to 1951. It's a well written book but after getting all the way to page 251 I was so confused, I actually started over at the beginning. So you're not the only one having trouble keeping characters straight!

Nancy - What a saint you are to have worked so hard and diligently during your school librarian years. I just know you must have made a real difference in the lives of so many children. I enjoyed reading your comment and all the information in it. Cheers to you!

Susan - Bless your dear mom for taking the three of you girls (rascals that you were!) to the library to get books regularly. What a treat and joy that must have been. So you say there still are baaaad librarians around, eh? Geesh. It's amazing to me that the powers-that-be don't see what damage they're doing!

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

Thanks Mama! I got so many goodbye letters from the kids, made me cry. I still cry when I read them. One student said I was like a member of her family, so touching...

Mama Pea said...

Nancy - That will happen to a truly good teacher. My husband still has grown men and women in the community come up to him, greet him warmly and tell him he was their very favorite teacher and then go on to reminisce about good memories from their year in his classroom. You were brave to make that change in your life a couple of years ago. Sometimes it's just the right thing to do. And you will always have those letters (and memories) of the years to worked with (and for!) those children.

Katie C. said...

Ok, here’s a post you can do: name your top 10 cookbooks that you own and why.

Mama Pea said...

Katie C. - What a good idea for a post! I'm gonna do it!! :o)

The Wykeham Observer said...

I was lucky I guess, growing up in the Brainerd public library system and public school. I was always surprised by the chubby librarians being so helpful, and we never heard the stereotypical "shhhhuuuuuh" in the library. Now I live in a very rural area, and the Eagle Bend library is a little storefront on Main Street. Luckily the librarians are very helpful, and I enjoy spending time there, although it's not the same during this pandemic. I'm glad you have developed a love of reading on your own. Maybe that is the best way after all. Phil

Mama Pea said...

Phil - I do believe all of us book lovers are missing being able to physically go into our libraries and visit with the helpful librarians and other people there. Often it was the only time I saw acquaintances as the population of our county is very spread out and many folks make the trip "to town" only once a week or even less frequently. For most people I know, a stop at the library is a must. We're fortunate our library is part of a great system that allows us to order books from most any other library spread over the northern part of the state. But, oh gosh, it takes soooo long to get an ordered book now. Each one has to be cleaned and quarantined upon arrival at the local library and then handed out.

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