Traveling

So, I’ve been traveling this week. I’m in Boston right now where I lived for many years before moving to the DMV. I still have people here. This past week has been about celebrating birthdays, births and connecting with kin. Coming back to the place that was my home for so long but is no longer my home is challenging. There is a mixed bagful of memories here. Fortunately, after so many years, the memories evoked are more like my mind’s movies than pains in my heart. And I’ve gotta be real, the weather here is challenging too. It’s kinda cold. I’m not used to it anymore. It feels a little more like spring at home where there are buds on some trees. Not so much in Boston.

 

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Bare as they are, I still love “the triplets”.
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That’s snow. What?!

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a little space for writing and reading while still tending to the needs of my family. I can’t work on poetry submissions while I’m away but I can continue working on my new short story, “Perennially”. And I’ve been putting together my next blog post about some changes that come with the second half of life. Hopefully, that will come next week when I’m back home. At night when there are too many of us to all use the wifi, I practice reading as a writer which is wonderful. I borrowed Dr Apelles by David Treuer from the library before I left. It’s an engrossing work that covers territory I know little about which makes it even more interesting. As always, I’m reading my favorite WordPress bloggers.

I’m heading for home soon.  Until I get back, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from Boston.

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There is beauty.
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Had to have the New England clam “chowda”.
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Celebrating her made the trip!

Thanks for joining me on my journey.

This Is What There Is For February

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Once again, it’s the end of the month and I don’t have a thing written for this blog. I have no ideas that I want to share right now or that I haven’t shared already. (It must be a consequence of blogging for eight years.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I write almost everyday thanks to the writers Meetup group I started with a friend in November. The members are incredibly smart, talented women. They motivate me to be a better writer and I’m grateful. We read, critique or write together every Saturday morning and then I go home and write. (That is unless life gets in the way.) I’ve finished putting together a collection of poems, a few of which I’ve posted to this blog, I started a new short story and of course I’m still revising that damn novel.

Speaking of novels, I’ve also been reading. I read Small Country, an excellent first novel by Gael Faye, I read Becoming by Michelle Obama and Yeshiva Girl, another great first novel by blogger Rachel Mankowitz. And I’ve been reading some posts written by other wonderful WordPress bloggers. Thanks again Boomie Bol!

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So, because my mind is otherwise occupied at the moment, I’m going to share a piece I wrote a while ago. It’s part of a larger work I posted a poem from a few months ago titled The Only Things Certain. The poem begins the work and this bit ends it. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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“Whatcha doin’ Mom?”

“Oh hey, son. I didn’t know you were here. I’m trying to finish grading these beds. Aren’t they going to look nice? Just the way I always imagined. Come on down and help me with some muscle work, please.”

“Ok, but you know this is a total waste of time, right? It’s not even your garden anymore, technically.”

“I know baby, but I invested so much of myself in these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that big bag of soil from up there with you.”

“Or they might tear them out or just let them weed over. Here, let me move the rocks. Did you have to get the most gi-normous ones you could find? These are really heavy and it’s kinda hot our here.”

“I got them over at Hamilton Park. They’re the last picks of my rock relocation program. Ha-ha.”

“You know Mom, a little of that goes a long way. You’ve been making that same joke for years.”

“I know, son. Your father used to think it was funny every time.”

“I’m glad you brought him up. It’s not just the garden. I think you’re having a hard time with all of this. He’s gone but we’ve got the memories. This is just a house.”

“It’s not that hot out. It won’t get really hot for another month, just about the time the hostas pop. I hope they like hostas. There are so many of them in this yard. But the daisies I planted between them died…Oh, and the day lilies! I forgot! I need to thin those before I go. They’ll take over before the new people know it if I don’t. Go get my long handle weeding hoe out of the garage, will you?”

“Mom.”

“Let me do this in peace, ok? Yeah, I’m having a hard time, so kill me. Now go get the hoe. I’ll finish off the rocks.”

“Here’s the hoe. Oh my god. Mom, you’re planting herbs? For real? Are you gonna leave anything for the buyers to do? Where were you hiding those, in the basement?”

“I just want to give them ideas for the beds until the perennials come in. There’s all kinds of good stuff in the lower beds; my irises, Astilbe and Delphiniums, then later, my coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans…”

“Whatever. What’s the saw for?”

“Oh, some of the lilac branches are growing into Doug and Tasha’s yard. See there? I told them I’d cut it back before I go.”

“I’ll do it. Take my shirt. I don’t care what you say, it’s hot out here. I’m not used to the heat anymore.”

“You’ve only been gone for nine months. You kids sure do shake off the past fast. I was saying that to your sister last night. She called in between her scene changes.”

“I don’t know why Doug and Tasha care since they’re moving soon too. Just these two branches, right?”

“What? Who said they’re moving? Where’d you hear that? Help me up.”

“From Doug. I saw him in the driveway before I came back here. He said they’re moving to Houston to be near her family because of the new baby. I guess they didn’t tell you.”

“Nope, I had no idea they were planning to leave. That makes me sad.”

“Why? You won’t even be here!”

“Because baby, the neighborhood that I know, where I brought you all up, isn’t going to be the same. It’s a nice neighborhood with nice families. We were here a long time. I just think it’s so sad.”

“Mom, babies get born so parents move, flowers fade and new flowers replace them. And Mom, loved ones pass away. Things change. C’mon, I’ll grab the soil and let’s get this finished.”

#

The Only Things Certain ©2015 Kat Tennermann

And Another Thing About Music

A few of the WordPress bloggers I follow post everyday. That will never be me. I have way too many other daily routines vying for my time like, hair removal, staring into space and Konmaring my house. Speaking of Maria Kondo, y’all know that in a year we won’t remember her, right? It’ll be Maria who? But she won’t care because she’ll be sitting in her joyful L.A. home with her two adorable daughters tranquil in the knowledge that messy people around the world have already paid for their college educations. But this post isn’t about her.

No, I don’t have it in me to blog everyday but fellow blogger Hanspostcard’s Song of the Day has motivated me to write in my journal daily about music. I call it Kat’s Bewildering Morning Song. I realized a couple of months ago that most mornings I wake up with a random song going through my head. And when I say random, I mean random. Why Elmo’s ring bearer song from Maria and Luis’ 1980s Sesame St. wedding? Why? “Don’t drop the ring Elmo, don’t drop the ring…” It’s not the same as ear worm songs because as far as I can tell, nothing prompts it. You’re probably thinking, she’s hearing those songs sometime during the day before and just doesn’t know it. I can guarantee you that I did not hear Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel at the supermarket yesterday so I don’t understand why it was the soundtrack served up with my breakfast.

I have a theory. What if the random playlist is my brain’s way of choosing songs to dump. What if it’s like, “Ok, you want to remember those Kendrick Lamar lyrics? Well then to make room, Twelfth of Never by Johnny Mathis has to go. So here it is for the last time unless you stubble on the one Pandora station that plays it.”

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It makes sense right? At this age I’ve filled up a lot of my memory. Many times I feel as though I’ve forgotten more than I remember. Sometimes while reading on a subject I want to know about I’ll find myself thinking, wait, did I know this before. Unfortunately, I can’t prove my theory because if my brain is jettisoning songs from my memory, how would I know? I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten. And if I do hear that song on Pandora, will I remember hearing it before or that I’d forgotten it? What did I forget to make room for the Leon Bridges album? Of course there is some music I’ll never forget even if Apple took it from my iTunes.

Right now I’m just waiting to hear what  will come up this morning. Will it be Umbrella by Rhianna or High Hopes by Frank Sinatra. I never know. How about you? Can you stop the music if you want to? When you walk down memory lane do the songs come up or do you have to google the year to remind yourself of what they were? What goes through your heads, musically speaking?

I’d forgotten about this song until I wrote this post.

And thanks for reading.

They’ve Changed

There were a lot of family around here during the holidays. I mean, a lot. My family structure is fluid, the configuration changing rapidly and in interesting combinations. People come and go in different ways, births, deaths, marriages and partnerships, divorces, engagements and estrangements.  Relationships morph. Yup, more changes to process.

I’m one step away from the goings on pretty much these days, an observer to the changes, part of the looking forward from back here thing. It’s primarily my offspring, those grown folks, who have to navigate all the transformations, revisions and modifications to our family relationships. (Although there are other members bringing the drama um…involved too.)

When they were young, I lived and breathed for my kids. I loved and nurtured them with everything I had. When they got older they let me know that they would determine how I could love them. Stay in your lane, Mother. My offspring think they decide the level of my involvement in their lives. They don’t really.

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My involvement fluctuates.  I think about all the stuff they’re dealing with and how they handle it. But I don’t say anything. To them. I mostly keep my mouth shut and do what my mother always advised, I watch and pray. Mostly. I’m trying to understand how to be supportive without making suggestions. I’ve talked to other moms (sorry dads, fewer opportunities to talk to you all) of grown kids about the challenges of older parenting so I know I’m not the only one still trying to figure it out. I wrote a poem a few years back when I realized my son and daughters were adults. If you happen to be a parent to grown people maybe you can relate.

Who Are You?

You think they’re strange now,
wait a few years.
You think those tiny people
who don’t understand anything,
who look to you for everything,
who believe you control it all
are complicated?

Wait until they grow up
and dislike you,
because they are
extensions of you,
an essential you,
themselves, but also you.

When you ask yourself why
you are a parent,
wonder if you created them
so you could give yourself
your own love,

when you cry at both
sweet memories
and present truths
you’ll come to realize
how hard kids really are.

(©2018 Kat Tennermann)

And still, I love them. They are smart, wonderful people. And believe me, they’re good to me. I’m grateful for them every day.

 

Sooner or Later We Have to Face Before

You’re probably aware of the sudden controversy over the lyrics to the song  “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. What’s funny to me is that I thought about the creepiness of the song a couple of years ago.  I also wrote the piece below, which is along the same lines, a few of months ago. I decided not to post it because I didn’t want to upset anyone in this #MeToo moment. But now, I think maybe we can talk about it.

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I was listening to a Larry Graham tune the other day. He’s very talented and he was at the height of his career during my salad days. He was one of the original members of Sly and the Family Stone. He also had his own group for a minute, Graham Central Station, and a successful solo career. Some of you probably remember him for his song, “One in a Million”. (That was played one and a million times at weddings back in the day.) I used to dance to his music and he was one of my faves. A couple of his songs still loop in my head. I was thinking about one of the ones that comes up occasionally in my mind’s playlist. The song is Sooner or Later, from the album of the same name. Graham is a bass player with an beautiful deep, sexy voice. I was enjoying the memory of his voice on that particular song when it hit me that the lyrics sound strange in 2018.  I don’t know why I didn’t notice before. Like a lot of folks, I guess I’m more aware and sensitive these days.

The lyrics start out all right, your basic “I love you” tune. But a while into it, it starts to feel uncomfortable.
“You can’t run away from me. Oh baby, sooner or later I’m gonna make your mine…I know it’s just a matter of time.”
What? Umm…that’s vaguely intimidating. He goes on to say that the girl’s the sweetest in the world and he,
“just can’t let you go. Oh, oh you can’t run away from me.”
Ok, if a woman heard someone say that today it’d be a red flag, right? He starts riffing toward the end,
“You’re gonna be my darlin baby, ain’t no maybe…I’m gonna make you mine forever…”
What does that mean? Will there be ropes and duct tape involved?
“… we’ll be together…Although it might take time I’m gonna make you mine.
C’mon now, that doesn’t sound slightly threatening? Right now, it sounds like he’s planning on stalking.

Obviously, I’m not taking the song too seriously. But when I think of the number of times I sang along to Sooner or Later back then and wished my boyfriend (my husband three years later) would say those things to me, I gotta admit I’m a little embarrassed. I know the song is a product of its time. It was 1982. Tootsie and Victor/Victorious were in theaters so we had at least started to think outside the traditional lines of sex and gender roles but on the other hand Richard Dawson was still kissing the female contestants of Family Feud on the lips. I also know that when I was young, women my age didn’t think so much about the ramifications of men’s attention. We didn’t analyze the positive or negative connotations of that attention. We were more inclined to ask, “Why isn’t he giving me attention?” than “What does his attention mean?” I’m glad young women ask now. And if that questioning means we have to re-examine beloved chestnuts like “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, maybe that’s a good thing. We can think about it while still listening and enjoying.  I’m going to continue listening to Graham’s song cuz I like it. Maybe I just won’t sing along.

 

 

 

Another Change

Well, it happened. For the first time since  re-launching this blog, I missed a post. I had committed to posting at least once a month but I missed October. It’s not for the lack of trying. I wrote two pieces but hated one and didn’t finish the other. I sat up Halloween night hiding from the trick-or-treaters while trying to come up with something. Nothing. I closed my laptop and turned on the TV.

I have this problem more autumns than I want to admit. I seem to follow a pattern. The leaves change color and start to fall and I get depressed. Then the temperatures dip and I begin to eat for comfort (and store fat for the winter, I guess). I have trouble writing, which I hate because writing is my real comfort. I swore I was going to resist the pattern this year. I thought I’d stored enough warm sunshine in Tulum in September to see me through. But the empty takeout containers in my recycling bin and the lack of an October post seems to mean it wasn’t enough.

It’ll be ok, I’ll make it through. At this point in my life I’ve learned it’s not either this or that, warmth or cold, light or dark, it’s both. There is beauty in the warm sea tides and the fallen leaves. So, I’ll share with you poems about both. The first is one I wrote which is actually part of a larger work by the same name.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Only Things Certain

Dying
green
cascading brown
down

to stream water
wearing still rock.

Degrading
green
turning red
up

reaching, beseeching
to moving sky.

Trees, stream, sky.

Passing out of,
seen
and unseen
beauty

in change
and death.

(©Kat Tennermann2018)

 

And then there’s this one from the beach in Tulum. It’s a Navajo poem courtesy of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation. I read this out loud every morning.

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Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

Walk in Beauty

In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again.

 

 

1968 Part II

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The Washington Post September, 2018

First,  an update on my post Why Did They Take My Music…(March 2018): They took away my Aretha!

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Miss Aretha Franklin’s funeral was today. Rest in peace, Queen. Miss Aretha had 2 big albums with some of her greatness hits (although by no means all) in 1968. The albums were Lady Soul and Aretha Now.

I wrote about 1968 in April and shared a part of my novel about that year. A couple of weeks ago I went to the National Portrait Gallery exhibit, 1968 One Year, An American Odyssey. It’s a great exhibit. If you’re in the D.C. area, I recommend going to see it. I went with a friend who hadn’t been born yet in 1968 and who is from another country. As I expanded on the written narratives for her and tried to explain how significant the events were,  the exhibit brought up memories that I’d forgotten…

It’s 1968 and I’m sitting at the kitchen dining table with my family. My mother and step-father are discussing the news over dinner. (It’s understood that my younger sister and I don’t have the gravitas to add anything important to the conversation so we sit and eat without talking. Sometimes we shrug.) There are riots going on in various U.S. cities and my mother isn’t happy about it. She’s supportive of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s agenda of resistance and reform through nonviolence but she feels that the primary goal of Blacks should be the “uplift” of the race a la W.E.B. Dubois. She believes black power is the improvement of our social condition through our own achievements. She isn’t  feelin’ the Black Panther’s message of speaking truth to power or their riff on Malcolm’s pronouncement of “by any means necessary. Those messages penetrate my mother’s well crafted narrative and float around in my head. I’m not yet a teen-ager, I won’t start high school for a few months. But I read, I watch and I listen. I’m confused now by all the opinions and perspectives. I know what I’m supposed to believe but I’m not sure I do believe it.

I looked at the exhibit photos of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and remembered that the music of that year both scared and soothed me. It continued my introduction to alternative ways of looking at things, challenging what I was being taught at home. But I also remembered the songs I listened to on AM radio late at night. I liked to lie in bed with the lights turned off, staring at the green glow of the radio dial.  I would drift off, lulled by the stylings of artists like Miss Aretha singing “I Say a Little Prayer, Sergio Mendes doing “Fool On the Hill” and the Temptations soon to be classic “I Wish it Would Rain”.

My mother preferred Della Reese to Aretha Franklin. I loved them both.

The Devil’s Decor

 

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One or two of you might remember this photo. It was the featured image on my post about storage units. This lamp, this six-foot tall, 80 lb bronze snake lamp had been in my storage unit for ten years. That’s right, I said TEN YEARS! You might wonder why. Well, so do I.

It all started twenty years ago on a family trip to Jim Thorpe, PA. We were browsing in an antique shop when my late husband got excited and stopped in his tracks. He said, “Honey, look at that lamp! Man, that’s great looking!” I answered, “What lamp?” There was only one lamp on display in the store but I didn’t want to believe he meant the hideous thing in front of us.

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I mean, look at it! It has a red glowing eye. The long tongue is extending out four inches. And it’s looming out of its basket and standing on its tail. So not only is it ugly but it’s a menacing snake lamp. I felt it was impossible for anyone who was serious about decor to work this curious floor lamp into a design concept. But because of B.T.’s attachment and the support of clueless children, we loaded the stupid thing awkwardly into our minivan for the drive back to Massachusetts. (It served those kids right to spend the five-hour trip maneuvering around the tail to reach their snacks. The tongue kept poking the youngest. The oldest spent the trip holding the heavy yellow glass shade which unfortunately didn’t break.)  I tried to get B.T. to take it down to his basement man cave but he wanted to see what it’d look like in the family room. He thought it was unique and stylish. If I could have lifted it by myself, I would have taken all that uniqueness downstairs as soon as he next left the house but I couldn’t so there it stood for all the world especially my friends and neighbors to see.

In the following years I had to pretend to be obsessively interested in rearranging the furniture so I could move it farther and farther into the corner of the room. I even tried hiding it behind the curtains. Nothing worked. It’s so big some part of it was always visible. I felt like the mom from A Christmas Story who had to deal with the leg lamp. At least that was small enough to push over.

When I downsized to a condo I had to put some furniture into storage. The snake lamp was the first item in, way in the back. I would have tried to get rid of it then except the offspring were sentimental about it. I kept the unit longer than planned but I disposed of everything over time…except the lamp. Last month while visiting family in Boston, I closed out the storage unit. The lamp was the only thing left. I wanted to sell it and have the buyer pick it up at the storage place. I thought maybe I could get $100 or so for it. I checked online (well you do, don’t you) and my luck, the thing is worth a little coin. I guess the lamp is in the style of Edgar Brandt’s La Tentation. Who knew it was a thing. Apparently there are other people who like the style and can make it work. My serpent isn’t worth the price of an original but it’s worth more than I thought, damn it.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Yup, I loaded up the red-eyed devil lamp for yet another long car ride. This time it was just me and the snake from Boston to Alexandria, Virginia where I now live. There were a couple of times I thought I heard it hiss.

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So where is the lamp now? You already know. The Edgar Brandt style, six-foot tall, looming, intimidating viper is taking up valuable real estate in my living room right next to the one window. I can’t believe I’m living with it again. It scares my grandkids so I have to cover the head when they come over. But it’ll stay there until I can unload sell it to a susceptible  discerning buyer. How did this happen? I can only assume it’s because I’m in hell.

Stress Test

I told people I was having a simple medical procedure today. I was vague for a couple of reasons. If I’d called it a test I’d be risking being asked for specifics. Procedure sounds serious and personal, requiring a bit of indelicacy to press for details. Details were the last thing I wanted to talk about. This isn’t the kind of test I had as a young woman. Those were often tied to issues of sexuality and/or fertility. This is a different time and a different test. I’m uncomfortably close to the age where I’ll mark life passages by my medical record.

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As I sit here in the waiting room, I listen to the nurse give each patient the same information as we check in at fifteen-minute intervals. I have enough time before the test to wonder what health care would look like if our system wasn’t for profit. I understand that because of the costs of resources there would always be expenses involved. But what would it look like in a Utopian culture? Would nurses hold our hands? Would there be space for empathy by the practitioners and dignity for the patients? I think about this as a nurse younger than I am calls me “dear” while peering at a monitor. She asks me the same questions their office has asked me four times since they scheduled this appointment. I realize I’m in a bad mood. It’s because I’m about to be charged my entire insurance deductible for the privilege of having someone look up my butt.

Hospital Supplies

I am now awake from the anesthesia. Thirty minutes of blessed unconsciousness. The older woman to my left wobbles as she struggles to get dressed behind a curtain. I’m glad I brought flip-flops to replace my heels for the walk out. The African-American man to my right laughs loudly like a comedian on stage, while recounting an improbable anesthesia dream about being on Leave It to Beaver. Later, he speaks softly and tenderly to his wife behind his curtain. Each of us here in the recovery room attempts in our own way to deal with the reality of this stressful test. We use these thin, narrow curtains as shields to hide our vulnerability.  Right now, having by backside exposed and vulnerable seems like a metaphor for my life in 2018 America.

 

The Library

I recently recommitted to staying up-to-date with the changing tech we use everyday. (Except for iTunes.) As I’ve said before, I want to remain current. There is a place that the fast pace of tech changes hasn’t made obsolete (a la public phones and supermarket cashiers). It’s the library. Fortunately for all of us, the U.S. public library system has kept up with change and has evolved to meet today’s needs. We can install library apps on our phones.  We can check online to see if a book is available at a local branch and hold it until we get there. We can borrow an e-book and download it to our e-reader without leaving home. Anyone can use the public desktops at any branch (albeit on unsecured networks). And we can check out hard copy books by using the self-service scanners. (These require a staff member nearby to help the tech challenged folks who still can’t quite get the hang of it, just like in the supermarket.) Yup, the library has kept up and it makes me happy because it’s been my solace for a long time.

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I remember the first time I went to a library.  I didn’t imagine the doors that would open once I reached the one leading to the front of the little branch in Medford Massachusetts. My mother dropped my sister and I off there on a Saturday morning in one of her attempts to find something “enriching” for us to do. She had papers to grade, so she needed to leave us somewhere that, in her mind, was more useful than the neighborhood playground. She had little discretionary cash so that fact it was free was a good thing. That was back in the days when parents could leave their kids in a place with strangers and not have a) the strangers call the cops or b) the strangers abduct the kids.

I remember the way the children’s room looked and smelled. The walls were bright primary colors with posters attached encouraging us to READ. Isn’t it funny, to this day I love the smell of books, the paper together with the ink. The first time I caught the scent it was better than that of the lilacs next to my house. My love of the library goes back to that day. I spent hours with my head inside books, close enough to read and inhale them.

I discovered a place that was more comfortable  than my home. My mother was a single parent who worked long hours so home was sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful. It was comfortable and comforting at the library. I was able to walk alone and undisturbed up and down the stacks, taking out any book that caught my fancy. I’d look at it, put it back or tuck it under my arm for later. I wonder what the adults thought who saw me, the little black girl in blue cat-eyed glasses talking to herself as she marched through the rows. I loved dropping my choices onto the little tables and chairs set out to enhance the pleasure of reading. And I appreciated the QUIET. It was unbelievable to me that everyone, even adults, had to shut up so everyone else could read.

I went to the library often after that first visit. As I still do now, back then I’d choose a secluded corner near the back, close to a window if possible. I sat at those little tables reading the variety of styles I’d delighted in trying. My interests ranged from juvenile biographies of Louis Armstrong and Sojourner Truth to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Although Charlie’s life was as mysterious to me as the factory.)  One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved books in which kids were stretching boundaries. My mother made sure we had books at home but I had to share with my younger sister. Those titles skewed younger. At the library I  stretched my own literary boundaries which made me feel more mature.

The library was the most civilized place my nine-year-old self ever experienced, and the library is still one of my favorite places. I wrote a blog post about using it as my writing office but I also still roam the aisles for comfort. Public libraries are wonderful resources for us and for many reasons. I hope we don’t decide we’re so advanced as to lose them.