From Grace to Grace at the Library

by Bill Peak

Last week, while working out at the front desk, I noticed a ten year-old standing down at Check-In watching a patron up at Check-Out trawl the depths of her purse for her library card. Noticing my eye upon him, he indicated the lady with a tip of his chin, whipped out his own card and announced (in a voice surprisingly deep and reproachful for one so young), “I can always find my library card. I never leave home without it!”

And I'll bet he doesn't. We grown-ups may take our library cards for granted, but our children don't. For most, it represents their first step into a world where plastic confers power: “With Mommy's card, she can take anything she wants out of the store; and with mine, I can take anything I want out of the library!” You should see the way they look at you when you give them that first card. They receive it with a certain reverence, almost always using both hands, and though they may, eventually, permit their mother to take it from them (in acknowledgement of her role as keeper of the family scrolls), they always watch it carefully into her purse.

Children are like that, aren't they? They live life fully, haven't learned yet to put the blinders on, tamp it down, not leave themselves exposed. One of the great privileges of working at the library is the opportunity it gives you to watch these tiny, frail, fearless creatures going about their lives so unfettered. When their mother brings them to our small, slightly shopworn children's section, they react as if she'd delivered Disney World; and when, later, she tells them it's time to leave, they cry, they wail, it is tragedy without surcease.

Not long ago, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion (from The Country School's production of “The Wizard of Oz”) came and sang their signature songs to the children in our Storytime program. Afterwards, when we wanted to take a picture of children and actors together, one little girl hung back, seized with sudden shyness by the appearance of imagined characters unexpectedly real and alive right in front of her. Thinking she might feel more comfortable with one of us beside her, I asked if she'd let me stand next to her in the picture. She looked up at me as you or I might look up at Everest, then, unasked, reached up and took my hand. How fortunate we are to have little children from time to time put their trust in us. It reminds us of our own frailties, I think, makes us appreciate just how dependent we really are on one another.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself standing out by the front desk discussing the state of the economy with Robert Horvath, the library's director. Like many people, and most organizations these days, the library is facing hard times, our budget having suffered significant cuts in both state and county funds. Discussing these, Bob and I were, I'm sure, looking fairly serious and concerned. And it was then that a young mother happened by with a small boy in her arms. For some reason the little fellow noticed us and, in the way of children, frowned as though he'd found something in our faces worthy of study. Then, as mother and child exited the building, the little boy's eyes grew large and, raising a hand to his lips, he blew us both a kiss.

It's a great place, the Talbot County Free Library, full of great stories, some fictional, and some very real.