Yesterday on a warm July afternoon I went to the Sudbury library and got caught in an unexpected time loop. Think of how String Theory brings two points in space close together. In this case, memory connects two points in time to form a loop.
Going to the library has always been a big part of my life. My mom made sure all her kids had library cards and I kept that tradition going. When I was small, the library in Somerset, MA, was within walking distance of our house. My sister, Diane, and I could walk a block from our house on Roosevelt and McKinley avenues down to Riverside Avenue and then a couple of blocks north to the old Somerset library.
Miss Flora at the Old Somerset Library
Back then the library fit into a house overlooking the Taunton River and the head librarian, Miss Flora, presided over its small collection. Many years later the town built a new library that was brighter, cleaner and more efficient with much more room for books. But our Mom had to drive us there and that made a big difference.
Walking meant that we could go to the old Somerset library on our own time for our own reasons without having to fit into a grown-up’s schedule. We could say, “We’re going to the library,” and Mom would say, “Be home in time for dinner,” or “Bring back that book on my night table.” That gave us the freedom to spend all of a summer afternoon in a warm room that smelled of books and magazines while fans droned in the corners. We browsed through the books and read magazines. We might even have taken a nap in one of the old wooden chairs without being disturbed.
Note: Nothing is more soporific than a warm quiet room on a summer afternoon with fans shifting the air around and, ideally, a baseball game on a radio somewhere nearby. I defy you to sit there for 15 minutes and not fall asleep.
Those rotary fans are now antique or “vintage,” and people collect them. Who’d a thunk it?
The Colored Fairy Tale Books
In a time before the introduction of adult fantasy, my sister and I read every fairy tale book in the library, which were titled by color and edited by Andrew Lang. After consuming “The Red Fairy Tale Book,” “The Blue Fairy Tale Book,” etc. we badgered Miss Flora to get more. She went upstairs and rummaged through old boxes in the attic until she found some. The Yellow and Violet books, along with a few others, came to us covered in dust and mummified spiders, smelling of musty attic air.That made them even more special.
It turns out there were 12 books in the set with a total of 420 stories and they had luscious color illustrations by Henry Justice Ford. I think we read every one — and not just once.In a world without “The Lord of the Rings,” color television, and movies with CGI special effects, these books were the closest we could come to being immersed in fantasy. I wish I knew what happened to them. A complete set of first editions now lists for over $6,000.
Note: Although “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien was published in 1955, I didn’t encounter it until 11 years later.
When we checked out a book, Miss Flora would take her big metal date stamp with the wooden handle and chunk it down on the ink pad. Then she would click-chock it onto the book where we could see the due date in big, no-nonsense red or black numbers. (She alternated ink colors.) Then she would write our name down next to the date. I loved that sound and wished I could use the big stamp. Today’s silent bar-code scanners with their red laser beam can’t come close to that satisfying experience.
Finding the Definition
One day, my friend Pauline and I wanted to know what “rape” meant. So we walked down to the library and turned over the pages of the big old dictionary on its wooden stand until we found the definition. “To have carnal knowledge of.” No. Help. Whatsoever. But we still could do that research on our own without telling an adult what we were up to and it felt like taking charge.
When the library moved to its new building on Read Street we lost that power and independence. Our mother was always happy to take us to the library—but only when she had finished the housework. Some days the waiting seemed endless. We missed our freedom to just get up and go when we wanted.
Miss Flora retired and the new building had several librarians, one of them my friend Sharon’s mother. It was always a friendly place but I still have fond memories of that warm dusty building we could reach by walking just a few blocks all by ourselves. That’s where the time loop took me on a warm July afternoon.
The Newest Library
Google tells me that Somerset has a new library on Country Street that, ironically, is within walking distance of the house we grew up in on Roosevelt Avenue. I wonder if whoever lives there now walks to the library as we did.
I’m glad the town got that built. When I was a kid, Somerset had a strong industrial base with the Montaup Electric power plant, where my Dad worked. That expanded when New England Power went on line in 1963. Those two facilities supported a solid middle-class lifestyle for a lot of people and the schools were well funded,
The Montaup closed years ago and NEP is being phased out. Somerset is feeling the pinch.
Time loops happen unexpectedly. The trick is to just go with them and remember the good stuff. I’m glad I remembered my summer afternoons at the library on Riverside Avenue.
Note: I couldn’t find any pictures of the old library. If you have one, please send it along.