Summer's Spell at the Library

by Bill Peak

In my experience, there are basically two types of children: those that have already begun to address—however reluctantly—the thorny issue of how one goes about becoming an adult, and those that have not. For the most part, the latter are not just unashamed of their status as children, they positively revel in it. These are the ones who—when their mothers tell them it's time to go, that they really must leave the library and the plastic dinosaurs they're playing with—unhesitatingly announce at the top of their lungs, “BUT I DON'T WANNA GO!” ... and then burst loudly into tears.

Remember what that was like? Remember what it was like to do exactly as you pleased, whenever you pleased, without recourse to conscience, social expectations, or even simple manners? The only thing standing between you and what you wanted were the giants that ruled the world—the grown-ups. They might be able to stop you from doing or having whatever you wanted, but they couldn't make you not want it, could not make you applaud their tyranny. You could sulk, remain obdurately inconsolable, for you were still truly and unapologetically a child—your wants, your needs, ruled supreme.

People in Mexico sometimes speak of their country as if it were two places and not one. There is the Mexico of the big cities and tourist spots, and then there is the Mexico that lies far off the beaten path, a country of dusty, one-horse towns and nameless ranchos. Speaking softly, reverently, the old campesinos call this second, less well-known part of their landscape “el México profundo,” for this is the heart of the country, the place where its true character resides.

My wife and I have reached an age where more and more often we find ourselves trawling our memories of childhood for the anecdote that best illustrates our feelings about whatever it is we have just seen or heard. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if our outer selves—the habits of life and work we've adopted to get ahead, get along—are now not only past but irrelevant, that it is in our childhoods that we find the true well-spring of our lives, the heart and substance of who we are. El México profundo.

Not too long ago, as we sipped our morning coffee, I was surprised by my wife's reaction to a comment I made about the library's summer reading program. My wife's looks are prey to her emotions. If I please Melissa, charm her in some unexpected way, chameleon-like she will change before my eyes, becoming flushed, rosy, even more lovely than before.

This was one such moment.

Melissa smiled. Eyes distant, remembering, she began to talk about a notebook she had once owned, the list she had kept in it of the books she was reading that summer, the summer she was eight. She could still see the big brass tabs that had held the thing together, could still almost smell the magic marker with which she had printed in big block letters across its cover: “My Summer Reading at the Library.” She wondered now what had become of the notebook, wished she could see it again. It had been, she told me, in all seriousness, one of the great joys of her life. Holding it open on her lap, studying its contents, she had felt as if she touched not paper or notebook, but the person she was becoming, the proof and pleasure of her growing up.

At first, of course, while I enjoyed her reaction to what I had said, I also thought my wife a little mad. I mean who else but the Ph.D. historian I had married would have thought her summer reading list the height of that season's pleasures. Summer, when I was a kid, was for building forts, exploring the woods, playing endless games of baseball.

But then I remembered a book called The Borrowers that I'd read the summer I was nine, the secret pleasure it had given me, the notion that, in our very midst, a race of tiny people might live hidden away beneath the floorboards, ever in peril of, constantly out-smarting, the giant “normal” people treading so clumsily overhead. And I wondered if even then, at the ripe old age of nine, a part of me had been harkening back to an earlier time, a golden age when I had been smaller and, in a sense, freer than I would ever be again ... This year's summer reading program at the Talbot County Free Library has something on offer for everyone from four to one hundred and four. Sign up for it and ... who knows? You just might re-discover your own el México profundo.