I won first place in a local library writing contest with this story several years ago. The theme was ‘what library memories did we have?’.
In 1950, I was a first grader in a new, small, rural school. The children marked the days off the calendar, waiting for the two days a month the yellow Sonoma County bookmobile visited the school and we could each select a library book! Without today’s modern technology of television, videos, and smart phones, a book was the doorway to a world of fantasy, imagination and excitement.
We lined up at the door of the bookmobile. I was barely able to contain our excitement until finally it was my turn to enter the truck. The librarian directed my attention to the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers and I made my selection.
The librarian challenged me with the responsibility of caring for library property and tucked a card into the back cover. It was mine for two whole weeks! Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and into the shade of a nearby tree.
The book was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the County Public Library System and personally sent 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 I knew this was against my mama’s rule, the chanting of chicken cinched my decision to agree. Several blocks from home, our path brought us to a PG&E workman’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and ‘double-dog dared’ us to follow. I was afraid, but unable to defy a double-dog dare, I had no choice but to follow him across the wobbling boards.
Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes and took a step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled into the dark hole and landed surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we peered into the darkness. I could barely see its pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and rescue too challenging for our small six-year-old minds to comprehend.
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 6-year-old in jail, but, who…? Suddenly it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay for this grievous error.
When I got home, I hid in the closet, despite my mother’s pleas to come out. I sat in the dark, crying, imagining what would become of us. Mama would have to go to work. Everyone would point fingers at me, knowing I was the reason Daddy was in jail.
When Daddy came home, he grabbed me by the collar, pulled me from the closet and whacked my bottom, “What the heck is going on?” Daddy always could get to the seat of the problem in about four seconds.
Between tears and trembling, I confessed the loss of my library book on the way home. (I decided not to mention my suspected opinion about him going to jail. The library police would be here soon enough to point that out and arrest him.)
Daddy drove us back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the 100 foot deep PGE boards, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, and my everlasting shame. He leaned over the gaping cavern, reached his long arm down and…pulled out the book.
Things were easier back then. You could count on Daddy to solve life-shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand, or so it seemed to me, as I snuggled against his shoulder on the way home, my library book clutched tightly to my chest.