The Library

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

When I was in elementary school, going to the library once a week ranked even above gym class as my favorite thing to do.  My librarian’s name was Mrs. Southward.  She had us list the names of each book we checked out on a small, white sheet of paper.  The first thing she did when we came into the library was read each of our names, which we’d written at the top of those white papers, and wait for us to tell her if we were returning or renewing each book.  “David.”  “Returning one book, renewing one book.”  “Shelly”  “Renewing two books.”  I loved the liturgical quality of this ritual but on one particular day, it drove me to distraction.

On this day, when I walked in the library door, the first thing I saw on the “Mystery” shelf was a book I’d wanted to read forever but couldn’t because it was always checked out.  On this wonderful day, there is was!  Unfortunately, there were two other girls in my class who wanted that book.  This being the 1950s, I knew I should be nice…I was drilled, encouraged, commanded to be nice.  But surely there were limits to just how nice I needed to be and I really wanted that book.

I succeeded in elbowing people aside and capturing the chair nearest to the mystery shelf.  As Mrs. Southward crawled through the names on the little white sheets, I stuck my leg out to establish myself in the territory between me and my prize book.  I slid over in my seat so that only a sliver of me was still actually in the chair.  I sized up the competition:  the two girls who wanted it were too far away.  The book was mine.  It had to be.

As soon as Mrs. Southward said the words, “You may now pick out your library books for this week,” I pounced.  And the book was in my hands.  Mine.  For the whole week.  End of incident from my fourth grade year.

Except that, all these years later, I can’t shake the feeling that I violated some 1950s, fourth-grade law of decency and decorum that day.  And the book wasn’t even that good.