Beatrix Potter Did It
I held on tightly to my motherīs hand. At the time, I was just tall enough to be able to look down and gaze at the shiny, brilliant stone of her engagement ring and catch a whiff of her perfume as it mixed with the charred scent of smoke on her fingers from her Tareyton cigarettes. I was excited because we were going on a car ride to Brookfield and it wasnīt to go Grandmaīs house or grocery shopping at Shopwell (which Iīd come to hate after my brother got us in trouble trying to bounce a glass mouthwash bottle.) We were going to a place where big people go and kids were allowed to touch - in fact, were encouraged to do so. We were going -- to the library.
My mother had talked about it all week trying to prep us, to drum up excitement for this treat, only if we would behave. The night before the trip I was extra good. I even put my shoes away where they belonged -- and asked for extra dinnertime chores. How many carrots I peeled that night, I donīt know, but it seemed like hundreds. I do know I brushed my teeth longer than usual and made sure to get washed up before bed without being asked.
The Brookfield library was an old, white building with wide, well-worn stone steps. To me, it looked like a smaller version of the Congregational church across the street. The sun shone so brightly that warm summer day that the bright white paint of the library glowed in the heat and the steps seemed to shimmer with some hidden energy. To get inside, one had to park around back and climb the dark, vine-covered pathway that wound around the side of the building almost like a secret passage. I wondered if we might need a password to get into such a magical place. As it turned out, that password was "imagination" -- a word I found difficult to say but had in abundance.
As we reached the top of the pathway and climbed the steps to the librarys huge double doors heavy with iron fittings, my mother turned to me and reminded me of my previous promise to use my "inside voice." I promised again and to my amazement she easily swung open one of the massive doors and we entered a cool, hushed space filled with books of every color, shape, and size. I watched the dust dance in and out of the shafts of light that had somehow escaped the heavy, wine-colored velvet curtains and wondered if it was fairy magic that made such a beautiful glow.
My mother had told me there was a special room just for children and that it was upstairs. Still clinging tightly to my motherīs hand, we ascended a small staircase tucked away in the back of the main room. We were greeted by a grandmotherly woman who introduced herself in a hushed voice and explained that she was the childrenīs librarian. Like my Grandmother, she had sparkly cat-eye glasses hanging from a chain around her neck and an ever-present hanky sneaking peeks from inside her sleeve. The frayed cardigan she wore around her shoulders had a bulging pocket, which I thought just might have chewy caramels or hard butterscotch candy like my Grandma.
At that point, I was distracted from asking about it because my mother let go of my hand. The childrenīs librarian smiled at my mother, took my hand, and asked me quietly where would I like to go? No adult had ever asked me such a question and there were so many places I wanted to go. I was so excited I was speechless. I never noticed when my mother went downstairs. She found me much later, sitting on the floor, books piled all around me, reverently stroking the silky-smooth, glossy pages of a small Beatrix Potter book called Tom Kitten. It was on that day my love of books and the written word was born and I, at the time, couldnīt even read.
As I grew up, whenever I visited the library, I always went first to the Beatrix Potter books so I could touch the pages, feel their unique texture, and breathe in the scent. It always filled me with a sense of calm and sweetness. They donīt make her books with the same kind of paper anymore; I checked. To this day, whenever I buy a new book, I run my hand over its pages...hoping.