I went to the local public library today. Although, here in Kent we don't have a "public" library, we have a "free" library. Now, I like that distinction, but my cousin, Dave, says it is just like us fucking hippies in Kent to have a free library. I have tried to explain to him that it is called the "free" library to differentiate it from the old concept of paid subscription libraries, but those of you who know Dave know how he would react to that.
I have tried to like the library in Kent, and I am still trying. The good citizens here actually passed a levy to build a big, fancy, new library. They have attached it to the old Carnegie library, which I feel was a mistake. The old library sits forlornly off to one side, looking dowdy and small and slightly embarrassed. Maybe I am just resentful of the fact that the old library here in Kent was saved, while my beloved old library in Elyria was thoughtlessly torn down.
Words fail me when I try to describe how much I loved that library. It was in the old Reefy house on Third Street across from the old YMCA. The house had a big wraparound porch, and the late return box was actually a big wooden box that sat on the front porch. To get to the children's room, we had to go outside and down the steps on the side of the porch. There was a separate entrance, and inside the door, sandstone steps led down to the Longfellow Room, as the children's basement room was called. The sandstone steps glittered and crunched underfoot as we walked down them. Miss Vivian Hackett was the children's librarian, and Miss Yarish - who liked my brother, but not me - worked there, checking out books, until she got married.
My family always walked to the library - which was a good thing, as there was virtually no parking. I walked there with my dad, I walked there with my mother, and when we got a little older, my brother, Thomas, and I walked there together many times. When we were children, we were only welcome in the children's room, and our cards would only check out books down there. Needless to say, there were no CDs or DVDs or video games. The books were enough. And how proud we were when we were allowed to switch to adult library cards and check out books from the big upstairs library. After that, we never went back to the children's room.
There were small reading rooms across from the circulation desk, and old men sat at the long wooden tables there, reading the newspaper on wooden dowel rods. I longed to be a grown-up and read my newspapers that way. Alas, by the time I grew up, that library was long gone, and I have always had to read my newspapers the regular way. A new library was built in the late 60s, and the church next door bought the property and demolished the old one.
Of all the places now lost to me, the door to that old library is the one I long to walk through more than any other. With Thomas Wolfe, I lament, "O lost."