When you are young, and the world is emerging from the 1950s, concrete steps leading up to an old stone-block Carnegie library seem huge.
Located in a fading of town between the railroad tracks and the river, tucked in amongst worn-out industrial buildings, it seemed misplaced. All the times I went there, I never saw anyone else walking in or out.
Starting around the corner to the east, the couple streets running to the river were lined with massive trees and wood-frame houses settling into the dusty ground. Just below the dam, the mill had been shuttered forever as far as I knew. The streets were quiet. The little village wasn’t a boom town then. The wine and beer industries hadn’t revived it.
The town sat in the northern desert. Where the view was open, you could see Rattlesnake Mountain. It was frequently referred to as the tallest treeless mountain in the world. Town seemed like an oasis. From the outside, the library didn’t.
Whether it was a hundred-degree summer afternoon or there were skiffs of snow scudded up in dark corners off the street, the library’s insides stayed the same. Dark wood-plank flooring sat in a tall square room. The bookshelves ran around the walls and ranged across in rows from front to back. At the front, the librarians’ station sat just to the right of big double doors.
The head librarian was a petite severe older woman. Her assistant, taller, younger, and a bit overweight, seemed to blend into the book stacks. I don’t recall them ever coming over to talk to me, no matter how many times I had been in. The only conversations of any length that come back to me were when they were admonishing me for not getting back my books on time and having to give them paper-route money for the fines.
I spent many hours looking at the spine of each book, pulling many out to read a couple of pages. It took a long time to work through all the books as I kept checking them out and reading them. I dreamt of writing one.
Friends have told me that it is a funeral home and crematorium now. The new library built on the edge of the big park across from the high school. When I go back to visit, I don’t drive by. Things move on, but that is one change that might be too much.
Now, I live in a home that is full of light. I have a library and write books. I live in the woods in a much gentler part of the world.
The old library gave me the dreams to run away from my home town and create a great life.