During my childhood, visits to the Portsmouth Public Library were one of the many walking vacations Momma took us on when she had a day off work. She’d walk us to Tower Mall, not to buy anything, but to maybe share a couple of cones from Chick-Fil-A, to the 7-11 where we five would share a Slurpee while walking London Boulevard, and to the waterfront, where we’d wave at ships, play on the balance beams, and hang from the gymnastic rings while Mary showed off her gymnast moves. I loved those walking, non-vacations, but my very favorite was the Portsmouth Public Library.
Even though library visits required us to be as quiet as possible, which is always problematic for rambunctious children, I relished our time there. The woody scent of books, wall to wall, from floor to ceiling met me at the door. I’d open one book at a time, thumb the pages, flick them so fast air rushed toward my face. At eight, I did not search for pictures; I searched for words, enough to sustain until we could vacation to the library again.
Judy Blume’s Blubber, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Series, Stephen King’s The Bachman Books, I chronicled the years of my life, not by birthday parties and gifts, but by books–the amount I could read in a year and the amount I hoped to one day write. That library led me out of my world into a room with doors, so many doors I couldn’t fathom opening them all, but the ones I did open, those doors led to other worlds. And those worlds led me right where I am today.
February 20th I’ll be reading a book that I wrote, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul, in that same library and the thought is daunting. I fear I will be overtaken by emotion, remembering the world I was running from when my legs were shorter and my destination unclear.
I am so thankful to the Portsmouth Public Library and to all libraries across this world for the way that they serve their communities. I imagine thousands of children walking into their libraries on their mothers’ days off, hoping they’ll find books with words enough to help their lives make sense. I am grateful to my mother for placing the love of words in me with those too infrequent visits and I am hoping, despite our tablets, our amazon carts, and our big box bookstores that those buildings, with books wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with no cost but that of time, that they will endure, as they continue to inspire the next generation of writers.