A Librarian With a Sunny Smile I Once Knew and Loved

by on January 4, 2011 · 12 comments

in Culture, Economy, Education, From the Soul, San Diego

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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry Engberg January 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Great column! Every kid, and adult especially us senior citizens should benefit by the loving care of a good librarian. They often take a special interest in their patrons. I am so glad some of our taxes go to libraries.


Ernie McCray January 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Me too.


Dave Baldwin January 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Wonderful essay, Ernie. It reminded me of the following poem by Charles Simic.

“Some Nights”

Many fine pastries line the shelves
Of our town library. Miss Reese
Dips her finger here and there
While she walks the dim aisles
Looking for a certain book.

“I want something with truffles of Périgord,”
Is what I said to her.
“In Périgord where the poets only think of love,”
She exclaimed gaily,
Her mouth smeared with strawberry and cream.

I’m squeezing her hand; she is squeezing
My hand. We are going down
To the cellar where they keep
Little dark chocolates
Filled with almonds of heaven and hell.


Ernie McCray January 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm

That’s exactly what I’m talking about.


Willie J. Horton, Jr. January 5, 2011 at 7:53 am

Your story about the old librarian is very reflective, and insightful. Emerson once said, “meek young men grow up in libraries.”
Willie J. Horton


Jacquenese Barnes Price January 5, 2011 at 9:29 am

I just love the way you write and express yourself! You are treasure that I am so thankful for!


Ernie McCray January 5, 2011 at 11:21 am

Gracias, homey.


Jill Zagami January 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Hi Ernie,
I’m so glad to see that you are still putting beautiful words into writing.
I’m one of your kindergarten teachers from Fletcher Elem. who has now become a Librarian, and I appreciate your kind words. We reach out to our students and sometimes it hits home and leaves a lasting memory. Students come to us for help, knowing that we are willing to accept them and help them without putting a grade on their report card. Oh, I do love my students!


Lauren January 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm

And you always have loved your students! Good to hear from you.


Lauren January 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Oops, I’m using Lauren’s computer and my reply, as this one will, will come out under her name, but this is Ernie Mc. Oh, modern technology, huh?


Mary Laiuppa January 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Ernie! I was just talking to someone about you. You were my favorite principal.

Guess what? I left music and got an MLIS and became a national board certified librarian!

Unfortunately, due to the budget cuts I was declared in excess three years in a row. I’m now back doing music prep waiting for a full time single site position to open up. I so want to return to the library. I only hope I can before I am forced to retire.

It is so sad that when budgets are cut either in the school district or in cities, it is the libraries that are the first to suffer.

It is wonderful to see you are still writing.


Ernie McCray January 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Hi, Mary: So good to hear from you. I hope something opens up for you librarian wise in the near future. I just know you must be very good at it. Take care.


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