Something to Respect at the Library

by Bill Peak

About six or seven years ago, Kate and Jim McMullan wrote a children's book about a hungry, burping garbage truck that likes to talk about all the smelly, rotten things it eats. For whatever reason, I Stink! caught on with the five and six year old crowd and now, though we have five copies of the book in our collection, we can't keep it on the shelf. So who knew six year-olds were susceptible to fads?

Actually, of course, the publishing industry did, with the predictable result that a plethora of new books devoted to the subject has now found its way into the library's collection. With each passing year, another set of four and five year-olds picks up the torch from aging six and seven year-olds and proudly trots out of the library with titles like Garbage Trucks, Sanitation Workers, and, of course, the ever-popular I Stink!.

All of which leads me to the attractive young mother I met at Check-In yesterday. She had a baby in a stroller and a little boy who looked to be about six. When she noticed me notice that most of her returns related to ... well, shall we say "waste management" ... her expression changed to one of amused bewilderment ... "You know when it started," she told me, "two years ago, I thought okay, this is just a phase, after a while he'll grow out of it. But he hasn't. He can't get enough of them! The garbage trucks in town, the men on them? They're always signalling to me to pass, and I have to roll down my window and explain that we want to be there, that we're following them around because my son wants to watch." She shook her head. "He's even having a garbage truck theme for his next birthday. 'And we can have it at the dump!' he told me ... but I drew the line at that."

Later, after we'd laughed over her predicament and then the young woman had led her brood off into the children's section, I found myself wondering what effect, if any, her son's obsession with garbage would have upon his adult life. When I had been the little boy's age, I had wanted more than anything to be a fireman or train engineer. When a fire-truck or locomotive passed anywhere near me, I was all eyes and ears. But as I grew older, my interests didn't so much change as expand. There was fishing, there was baseball, there was Shakespeare. I went to college. I went to graduate school. I became “the library guy.” But thinking about it I realized that, even to this day, when a train or fire-engine goes by, a part of me, a small part of my heart, still goes with it.

And who's to say that's a bad thing? I don't know, I may be naïve, but I'm sure that early love of trains and fire-trucks explains in part the kinship I feel to this day for firemen and engineers, and, by extension, for all people in all walks of life. Each has their challenges, each their joys. Truth be told, probably the only trade I never thought about, never in any way envied, was that of the garbageman. But now, I suppose, thanks to the McMullans and the Talbot County Free Library, even that may change. An entire generation of children may very well grow up with a whole new set of heroes. And you know, the world can always use a few more heroes.