The town library was a haven for me, and I haunted the place during the summer between my fourth and fifth grades. Antique wooden bookshelves surrounded me and towered above me. Huge columns climbed to the ceiling, with giant scrolls decorating the top. I have always loved the smell of books, and the rich ambiance of stacks of books on shelves. The contents between the covers represented the wonders of worlds yet for me to discover.
We lived not far from the library for a year. A short time ago, I dreamt that I picked up a key from the downspout of all things, unlocked the hefty library door, and had that old, book-filled building all to myself. Heaven in a world off the farm.
I made town friends who lived in wonderful homes compared to our little farmhouse: Diana Udey, Mary Ann Lichtenberg, and Barbara White, who were younger. I don’t really know why, but I didn’t become close to my classmates in fourth and fifth grades.
Barbara lived in a house more majestic to me than Grandpa Mosel’s. I felt like Cinderella at the ball, just playing in her bedroom. We wiled away hours pretending to be mommy to dollies in the window seat framed by billowing lace curtains. Barb was a good friend, whom I reconnected with as an underclassman in high school, and we’re still in contact.
Going to town school changed me, in ways I couldn’t put into words. A new world opened up at my fingertips, but in my heart I remained a farm girl. The take-away memory from attending West Ward School, three blocks straight west from our house on 8th Street, is of the gigantic gray tube, the fire escape, on the outside of the towering brick building. I believe enclosed slides on playgrounds and water parks are fashioned after that tube. At the time I made its acquaintance, the tube was off-limits to us students, but most of us didn’t stay clear. The building is only a memory now to those who attended.
For my ninth birthday that spring, I received a girls’ 26-inch dark blue and white bicycle. I thought I would never learn to ride that stupid thing! I banged into parked cars, wobbling and crashing. My poor arms and legs were a mess of bruises and scrapes. One summer day, my brother Gaylen and I headed home from the Hilltop Café. I suppose I was tired of getting hurt. I climbed on behind him. We flew down “Hospital Hill,” on N Street. He hit loose gravel and over we went. The rocks chewed up my whole right forearm. My abrasions healed, but a scar remains that runs the length of my pinky finger.
On May Day I discovered May baskets left at our door by my friends, pretty paper cups lined with lace doilies that held candy and nuts, with pipe cleaner handles. That rare treat wasn’t practiced in the country. We jumped rope and gyrated with hula hoops. I received a baton for Christmas when I was nine. I tried hard, but I couldn’t twirl the way I wanted to. Each time I tossed it in the air it’s a wonder I didn’t bean myself in the head, or one of my siblings. I jumped through endless games of hopscotch and skipped along with the refrain “If you step on a crack you’ll break your mother’s back.”
Fifth-grade came and I crossed the highway to East Ward. My cherished memory, a gift even, from that year is that I learned how to read music.
I hope your memories are good ones from the impressionable ages of nine and ten.