In 1950, I was a first grader, one of the first to attend school in the county’s newest rural school house. Two days a month, the yellow Sonoma County Public Library bookmobile visited the school and we were allowed to select a library book! Without today’s technology of televisions, computer games, videos or CD’s, a book was our gateway to another world of fantasy, imagination, and excitement.
We lined up at the bookmobile door in two rows. Squirming, wiggling and chattering, barely able to contain our excitement, we waited our turn to enter the truck. Finally, it was my turn.
The librarian directed me to the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers, and I made my selection. The librarian lectured me about my responsibility to care for library property, and wrote down my name and the book’s title. She tucked a small card into the back cover. The book was mine to enjoy until the bookmobile returned.
Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and flashed a smug smile at the fidgeting children still standing in the hot sun. Their jealous gaze followed me into the shade of a nearby tree where I sat down to read.
The book was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the Sonoma County Public Library System and personally sent out the yellow bookmobiles to rural schools, as a symbol of truth, justice and the American Way. This, I knew, in my heart of hearts.
I walked home from school that day, carrying my lunch pail, sweater and my precious library book under my arm. One of my companions suggested we take a different route home. Though this was against my mama’s rules, the chanting of “chicken” cinched my decision to agree.
Several blocks from the school, our path brought us to a deep PG&E worker’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and “double-dog dared” us to follow. Another child crossed the teetering boards successfully.
I was afraid, but due to a “double-dog dare,” I had no choice but to give in to peer pressure. Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes, and took a precarious step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands outward to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled down between the boards into the dark hole, and surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we crouched over the hole and peered into the darkness; surely at least a hundred feet deep. I could barely see the pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and too challenging for our six-year-old minds to comprehend. My precious library book was gone!
I contemplated the outcome of this catastrophe. The President of the United States had personally commissioned the book into my hands, and I had failed him…. miserably. Someone was going to jail. I felt sure they wouldn’t put a six-year-old in jail, but if not me, then who? Suddenly, it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay for my grievous blunder.
Tears of regret, shame and panic plagued my walk home, where I hid in the closet for hours, despite my mother’s pleas to discuss the problem. I sat in the darkness, crying, imagining what would become of us. Mama would have to go to work. We would be poor, and everyone would point fingers at me, knowing I was the reason my Daddy was in jail.
When Daddy came home that evening, it took him about four seconds to grab me by the collar and pulled me out of the closet. Then, he whacked my bottom. Daddy always could get to the seat of a problem in about four seconds. He bellowed, “What the heck is going on?”
Between tears and trembling, I confessed my disobedience to come straight home and how I’d lost my library book down a hundred foot deep hole. I decided not to mention the part about him going to jail. He’d know as soon as the library police showed up to arrest him.
After dinner, Daddy drove me back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the boards at least a hundred feet deep, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, the ruination of my family, and my everlasting shame.
“Stand back, now,” He said. Daddy leaned over the yawning cavern, reached down with his long arm…and pulled out the book!
Things were easier back then, when I was six years old. No matter what happened, it seemed that I could always count on Daddy to solve enormous, life- shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand. I remember that I snuggled against his shoulder as we drove home, with my very own library book clutched tightly to my chest.