Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Librarian's Daughter

When I was a child, my mother was a librarian.  She is still, in an essential, immutable way, a librarian.  To her, books and their contents are the keys to happiness: art; big ideas; small observances of detail; stories of the real world and of the imagination; history; meaning.  Her house is her library.  Hundreds of books of every description line the walls: a lifetime's worth of reading.

She worked at a library that no longer exists.  Like many old buildings in Toronto, it was torn down to make way for condos.  I used to go visit her there sometimes.  We'd hang out with the librarian gang: there was Frank, with the big moustache; Philip, with the bad toupée; Sonia, with the plummy British accent; and Dipu, who I thought was funny because his name had the word "poo" in it.

During the day, most of the library's customers were senior citizens and mothers with young children.  The moms and kids would go downstairs to the childrens' section, leaving the main floor full of seniors browsing the large print section and leafing through the daily newspapers.  My mother recalls how, in the quiet, you could hear every cough and fart.  She became a connoisseur of the old folks fart sounds.  There were loud blasts, quiet squeaks, and, her favourite, rapid-fire machine-gun-style farts.

One old guy came in once per week to borrow a stack of paperback romance novels for his housebound wife.  He couldn't be bothered to keep track of which titles he had previously borrowed, so he used a colour-coding system.  He'd take books with green spines one week, blue spines the next, then red, then white, and then start back with green again.  I wonder how well that worked for his wife.

All sorts of odd items came back tucked inside returned books.  Once my mother found a knee-high nylon stocking which had been used as a bookmark.  Once, no word of a lie, the bookmark was a banana peel.

When I was twelve, I used to go shelve books in my primary school library rather than go out to recess with the rest of the kids.  I had already learned to feel at home in libraries.  I still have some of the Dewey decimal system memorized.  It comes in handy, occasionally. 

I hope that old-fashioned libraries, ones that smell of musty paper, with stacks full of anachronistic and bizarre books, never completely disappear within my lifetime.  I am born and bred a librarian's daughter.

9 comments:

Karen said...

I like the smell of a library. I have about 5 friends - all my age - who are librarians. I met them when they were getting their masters in library science and I was in law school. It is funny that they are all hipsters - I guess that is the new librarian style.

G said...

Very cool.

My favorite place to hang out to this day is a library.

Also worked at one during the early part of my state career too.

Jenski said...

Could your Mom recognize the regulars by their bodily noises? :-)

DarcsFalcon said...

A banana peel? ROFL! That's so funny! And now I won't feel guilty for using a napkin as a bookmark in an emergency. Oh, no, it was clean, not used. :)

LL Cool Joe said...

It's not the smell of musty paper, it's the smell of farts!

My mother loves books. I used to love the library when I could borrow music cds, but I'd pass on the books.

wigsf3 said...

Were you quizzed about the Dewey Decimal System at the dinner table?

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Did she teach you how to walk and fart silently like the secret sect of Librarian Ninjas???

Sparkling Red said...

Karen: There must be something about librarians and lawyers getting along, because my father used to be a lawyer. After he stopped being a lawyer, their marriage broke up.

G: I haven't spent enough time in libraries lately. The biggest lending library in the city is within walking distance of my house, but I hardly ever go there. Shame on me!

Jenski: That would be hilarious. "I'd recognize that fart anywhere!"

DarcsFalcon: I think almost any bookmark is better than leaving books open face down. One of the librarians' rules is Don't Crack the Spine!

LL Cool Joe: Our library system has a decent collection of DVD's and CD's, if you don't mind being a few years behind the leading edge.

wigsf3: Nope, my step-dad always dominated dinner table conversation. It was either about the condition of the stock market, or tales of gross medical complications, like the time he tried to do a hair transplant on some guy who had not mentioned that he was a hemophiliac. Wait, did I say conversation? It was more of a monologue situation.

Ron: Secret sect of library ninjas? Wow, that would explain a lot. I always wondered why she wore a black mask to work.

Jameil said...

I looove libraries!!!