Search This Blog

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Just Call Me a Greedy Little Kid

ruins of old hotel in Dos Cabezas
Just as it never had a church, it’s probably a good bet that, even at the height of the copper mining rush, Dos Cabezas never had a public library. No doubt the mine owner had a few books in the lodge where he entertained potential investors. (I'll have to ask Dorothy.) Surely he would have maps. But the height of the Dos Cabezas population was long ago.

modern library in Willcox
These days there is a good little public library in Willcox, however, the major town back up the highway about 15 miles, and the Friends of the Library group runs a little shop selling donated used books near the area museums. The Artist and I patronize both the library and Friendly Bookstore on a regular basis during our winters here. 

little bookstore in Willcox
But we have always, since long before we met, needed our own private collections of books, too.

My background in books: 

I grew up in a modest and frugal household. My parents were both readers and lovers of poetry and opera, but they were also budget- and savings-minded, and while we did not want for necessities, luxury played no part in our life. Summer vacations, until I was 12 years old and we borrowed an old canvas umbrella tent and began camping in Michigan, were two weeks of visits to grandparents back in Ohio, one week with my father’s father and stepmother, the other with my mother’s mother and stepfather. So as you might guess, the books we read were, for the most part, library books.

When I was in grade school, my class visited our tiny school library on Tuesdays and the bookmobile on Thursdays. Saturday was the big day of the week: a family visit to the grand public library downtown, where decades later I was able to give my husband a complete tour of the holdings of the now-empty former children’s book room, guiding him around the floor as if shelves and books were still in place, telling him, “This is where the Doctor Seuss books were. I discovered them for myself…. Back in this corner were the horse books [Justin Morgan Had a Horse]…. Over in this corner were biographies [Helen Keller’s was the autobiography I read with interest], and here … was Parents Keep Out, by Ogden Nash!”

My sisters and I were permitted to order a few inexpensive paperback Scholastic books when school presented that opportunity, but otherwise, and for beautiful, coveted hardcover books, we had to wait for Christmas and birthdays. On those special occasions, we might hope for one special book apiece. I still remember the year I found Marguerite Henry’s Black Gold under the tree. Santa’s presents to us were as modest as those from family members, but I have never forgotten the sight of that beautiful book waiting for me on Christmas morning.

Why did we only know new books and library books? Had I grown up in Chicago, no doubt I would have discovered used books earlier in life, but I don’t think we knew any shops in Will County that sold used books. Even garage sales were unknown in our edge-of-town 1950s neighborhood (although vacant lots we had aplenty, and what do children do without vacant lots?) Anyway, we were not shopping children. Penny candy and five-cent candy bars exhausted our tiny allowances, and climbing trees, digging holes, and building “forts” with old cardboard refrigerator boxes were more our speed than stores full of merchandise. The first shopping mall lay yet in the future. 

— But books! There were never enough in our house! And we only had a single bathroom for five people! My father called it “the library,” and a frequent plaintive cry from the other side of the door was, “Are you reading in there?”

As a teenaged babysitter, I was dismayed by the lack of books in the neighborhood homes that employed me. One house had only TV Guide for reading material, nothing more! I learned quickly that if I wanted the pleasure of reading after my charges went to sleep, I would have to take my own library books on those babysitting jobs. 

Eventually I did discover — in Urbana, Illinois; East Lansing, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; etc. — bookshops specializing in used books, and that allowed me to begin assembling a (still modest) private library, an eclectic collection of books that has transformed many times in size and content over the decades, sometimes shrinking (with a move), usually growing, and always taking new turns with new interests. 

My books waited for me!

Bookcase #2
So now, though we are only in a small rented cabin for the winter, with space at a premium, it would not feel like home without our own books in it. Happily, shelves of books accumulated over the past two winters greeted us upon arrival this month, and so it did feel like home when we walked in the door. The waiting books welcomed us (as books do) and even seemed to welcome the new additions we had picked up along the road.

Nature reference
Southwestern history and life
A few cookbooks

On our third evening here in the ghost town, when dark descended early, I suggested to the Artist that I could read aloud to him before we went to bed. We often read aloud to each in bed, but it’s easy then for the listener to fall asleep, so we agreed to try it sitting up in our daytime reading chairs. The first book we tried, despite an intriguing title, didn’t work out too well (“You lost me in the first paragraph”), but our happy second mutual choice was Julia Child’s My Life in France. What enchanting, contagious enthusiasm that Julia had, even in her nineties, looking back on the best time of her life! As Paris is also the magic world city for us, and we could picture clearly the scenes described in the book, it was the perfect book for a dark high desert evening’s dreaming.

It feels luxurious to have choices and variety at hand when we want a change of focus, and as a kid who grew up in a house where we had enough of what we needed but never a lot of what we loved, I love my little ghost town private library! It makes me feel that I live here, that I'm part of the place, and it makes me feel rich. You know all those commercials you hear about "growing" your "wealth"? This is mine.

Sarah likes the book corner, too. The photo here is from 2018, but she is gravitating to the library again this year.


Dorothy Laage said...

We miss our extensive library in our home in Elkorn. We have a small library in our new house and one for our guests. I still have not given away many the children's books. They brought us hours of joy. Now I read most the books online.

Dorothy Laage said...

We miss our extensive library in our home in Elkorn. We have a small library in our new house and one for our guests. I still have not given away many the children's books. They brought us hours of joy. Now I read most the books online.

P. J. Grath said...

Ouch! That last sentence! Sigh. But I know that you do have books in your home, Dorothy. As a friend wrote in e-mail after she couldn't manage to leave her comment here, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”