San Diego has company coming to town this weekend, about 10,000 librarians. My kind of people. I mean I just loves me some librarians.
And there was one in my life long ago who was the best librarian imaginable, a real pro. And it has bothered me for years that I can’t remember her name, maybe I never knew it, I don’t know.
Oh, what a beautiful soul. I loved her as much as a person can love someone he only sees on occasion and, speaking of occasion, I couldn’t walk into the main Tucson Library without that act being a special occasion if she was there and she was always there with her arms outstretched in a spirit that was as warm as her ever present welcoming smile.
I saw her often because I was always there as there’s no place I feel more comfortable and alive than in a library, feelings beginning the very first day I stepped into one. I didn’t really know what a library was. I knew it was a place that had a few books but when I saw books this way and that way, around corners and in rows, from the floor to way above my head, I got woozy trying to rap my young mind around how many words there must be in that place. I already understood, even as a puppy, that in this world folks had to know things to make it and I kept thinking “Dang, everything there is to know, must be right here.” The library was the place to be for me.
I don’t know how they pulled it off but the library somehow didn’t open its doors to Jim Crow who was known to hang out in just about every other place in the Old Pueblo. I felt as safe there as I did at home. It, like my home, was a refuge from the outside world.
And the librarian played a huge part in my feeling so at home. I’d come dashing through the entranceway, sometimes, all excited about my day and she would, like she was my mother, say: “Tell me all about it.” Then she’d react like my mother: “Naw, you met Satchel Paige? Really? And you made the honor roll, too? And you bet a nickel that Joe Louis will knock out Billy Conn? What didn’t you do?”
Sometimes I’d drop in huffing and puffing and giggling after having had a couple of hours of fun sitting downstairs in the “white only” section at the picture show and being chased, seat to seat by some usher who was, I guess, trying to earn a raise. They never caught me. Oh, that was such a kick.
Then there were times I’d barely make it through the front door, head bowed and heavy footed after maybe trying before I got there, with my childish optimism for the two millionth time, to buy a hamburger at some greasy spoon cafe to no avail. But there’s always tomorrow is what goes through the head of a little black boy who didn’t take second class citizenship sitting down.
But no matter what my mood when I showed up at the library, the librarian would take my hand and greet me with that smile of hers all aglow, stop folks from reading and say something like (and I tear as I write): “This is my good friend, Charles (I went by my middle name in those days). He is one of the smartest people I know, and just one of the nicest people you’d ever want to know.” And then she would show them the stars besides all the books I had read that she kept up on a little board by her desk. And I’d stand there with my ample lips spread into the biggest grandest smile and in those moments all was well with the world. She would always make my day. Oh, I loved that woman so.
Just thinking about her gives me a glow, makes me want to get up and dance, you know, groove my shoulders, dip my knees, glide and slide with old peoples’ ease, do the boogaloo and the cha cha cha and the meringue and the samba and the mambo and the fox trot and the soft shoe, whoo, hey, macarena. She was the librarian del mundo.
Ahh, if there’s a library in heaven or wherever beautiful people go, she should be running the show.
I bet there’s a librarian or two among the 10,000 coming to town who will be remembered like that. I really do think that they’re a special breed of human beings. I mean I just loves me some librarians.