“What have you been doing beside exercises and walking?” The spirited therapist had just finished our last in-home session and was making notes on my progress in recovering from knee surgery.
'It’s a funny thing,” I said in response to her question. “I have no desire to go anywhere or do anything. I am contented to stay home and read.”
She packed up her bag and stood up to go, but paused and said, “In the next few days, I think you should have an outing. If someone invites you to go somewhere, say yes.” I related this to my daughter-in-law Tammy and asked her to let me know if there was something interesting going on.
So it was that Sunday afternoon, she and my son Robin took me to the Grand Opening of the Yancey County Library. It had just moved into the newly renovated Yancey Collegiate Institute (YCI) building, which had once offered secondary education before it was publicly provided. A modern, state-of-the-art library, complete with an extensive computer lab and teleconferencing technology is now located in a designated historic district. Although the YCI building, now registered as historic, was donated for this new purpose, completing the renovations took ten years. The successful completion was achieved by the unrelenting optimism and vision of Theresa Coletta, the former regional librarian who headed the Library Expansion Project; the work of several sets of county commissioners of both parties; the sustained commitment of the library board and the project volunteers; and the combination of government, foundation and organization grants and individual donations.
It was a hot day, but there was a breeze and folding chairs under the shade of an ancient tree. A local soprano with an amazing voice touched my heart as she sang the National Anthem. Speeches were inspiring and folksy by turn and everyone who needed to be thanked, was. I saw many friends and enjoyed being there, especially since I have had a lifelong love affair with libraries.
When I was eight I got my first library card, good only for children’s books. The Glenside Public Library was housed in the basement of the bank building. Wide marble steps led down to the cool room that smelled of a mixture of book paste, dust and a faint overlay of mold. By the age of ten, I was a volunteer and had learned to restack the books. I also earned a Girl Scout badge in bookbinding and spent long hours helping the librarian mend torn volumes.
After Bill and I were married, our first home was in Browns Mills, New Jersey. Bill had been sent to Fort Dix for twelve weeks of Band School and we were lucky enough to find a tiny attic apartment in this bucolic crossroads. As we were talking to our prospective landlord, I asked, “Is there a library?” He assured me that there was. It was named for the man who had willed his book collection to the town and located in a small room on the side of a nearby building. It was only open a few hours a day, several days a week and was entirely run by volunteers. Everything had been coded to the Dewey Decimal System and many additional books had been donated. It was a treasure trove of arcane titles.
Bill left at 5:30 AM five days a week to get to the base in time for morning exercise and was there until suppertime. I made a few friends, took a free painting class, experimented with cooking, and read hour after hour, making frequent trips to the mini-library. When Bill graduated from Band School he was posted to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, where the library was larger and much more conventional, but equally important to my well-being. We moved nine times in the first five years we were married and getting a library card was always the first order of business once we found a place to live.
In the past few years, my eyes succumbed to cataracts and gradually reading became difficult as I waited for them to be ripe enough for eye surgery. I got out of the habit of reading although I kept up with the monthly selection of the Celo Book Group. I was spending much of my time writing my own book and replaced hours of reading with Netflix and audiobooks. Last year I had both eyes restored with lens implants and once again saw the beauty of our Technicolor world, which had turned brownish without my full awareness. Even though I gloried in my improved vision, I continued with my new habits and did not make a dent in the pile of books I planned to read someday.
That all changed with my knee surgery. I have rediscovered what fun it is to sit in the shade of a tree on a summer day and lose myself in Ondaaje’s Divisadero or curl up in my recliner during a thunderstorm and devour an intriguing new book on writing. Hence it was more than appropriate for me to make my first outing after my total knee replacement to the Yancey County Library, which similarly had just finished a total facility replacement, and to celebrate the fact that the YCI building is once again a center for learning.