Saturday morning last—Peaches to Beaches Day, to be exact—I drove down to the public library and joined some fellow readers in a fundraiser for the library. We were selling books that various generous people had donated for that very purpose. On the way to town as I crept down Hwy 341, I promised myself that I would not be my own best customer this year, even though I have a tendency to do just that.
“Self,” I said, carefully avoiding people in the street, “you know very well that you have two stacks of books waiting for you to read right now. You haven’t even read this month’s book club book yet. You don’t need anymore until you read those.”
“But those books on sale at the library are cheap, cheap, cheap,” some voice in my head pointed out. “Real bargains that you only find once a year. You don’t even know what’s there yet. Don’t make rash promises that you can’t keep.”
By that time, I’d arrived at the library and stopped my internal argument. What a beautiful morning. A cool, brisk breeze filled with the aroma of funnel cake and various other sinful foods wafted across the square. Soon my friend Elaine arrived, and we started helping people look for particular books or authors. We found a joke book, which we giggled over like school girls. It went home with her, but she promised to share it with me. And that Lewis Grizzard book—When my Love Returns from the Ladies’ Room, Will I Be Too Old to Care?--no one could expect me to leave that behind. It could well be that a few other books followed me home, too, in spite of my good intentions, but I don’t have time to go into many details right now. We spent a most pleasant morning among the books and among some nice people, too, now that I think about it.
I have spent my life in a love affair with the written word and hence, with libraries. Starting that affair in the tiny Jeff Davis County Library back in the 50s, I could hardly wait for Saturdays to arrive. Daddy and I traveled every week to the library and picked out 3 books each to help us make it through the week. My library card was my most valued possession, and when we got back home each week, I carefully squirreled it away in my night table drawer right beside my buffalo nickel that my granny had given me. I did tend to carelessly toss other treasures about and have to search for them, but never my library card. The books themselves went on my night table. We’d surely meet again, those books and I, when the night ended the day. Rarely did a night pass without my nightly reading.
Somewhere around 10:00 p.m. when Mama ordered me to turn out the light and go to sleep, I’d turn out that light, slip under my heavy quilt, and turn on my flashlight. One night long after Mama had gone to sleep, Daddy slipped quietly into my room and handed me a much more powerful flashlight.
“Here you go,” he said. “I don’t want you ruining your eyes. Remember, you do have to go to school in the morning. You’ll suffer for your sins if you stay up all night.”
I heard him chuckling as he went back to the living room and his own book. He had to go to work the next morning as well, but we understood each other. Sometimes the book was worth suffering for the next day. Oftentimes.
What Daddy did was give me a legacy of pleasure like no other I’ve ever known. He started my affair with words, first the reading and later the writing also. When people stop me in Walmart or at a book sale at the library and say, “I really enjoy your columns,” that pleases me immensely. To know that someone out there is reading makes my day and tells me that I’m doing my little part to pass on a legacy that Daddy gave to me nearly a lifetime ago. We didn’t have much money, but we didn’t need it: we had books.