Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering my personal “lending librarian”

Several months ago, I had a conversation with someone about the importance and meaning of community.

I have since pondered that conversation. I think there are many types of communities—communities of shared interest, geographic communities, communities of belief, and so on.

But I think the central part is a sense of sharing, and of having care for others.

There is one example that stands out from my childhood.

My earliest years were spent on a rural property. There was no public transit, and the nearest town was too far distant to walk to on my own. And of course, in the 1960’s, personal computers (let alone the internet) were yet to be discovered, let alone popularized.

Living rurally, there were plenty of outdoor pursuits that I enjoyed, but the summer I turned eight, I had a small problem. By then, I had developed a love of reading, but it turns out that I’d exhausted our household’s limited supply of child-suitable literature by the second week in July. Since we lived too far from town to walk to the library, it seemed there was little choice but to wait until school started again in the fall. For an avid reader, this was not an attractive prospect.

One day, my mother and I were visiting Mrs. Sharpe, a lady of Scottish descent who lived in a tidy, well-kept house just across the street.

At some point, the conversation turned to reading. Mrs. Sharpe eyed me shrewdly and asked whether I might like to borrow some of her daughter’s books. Although her daughter had since grown and moved out of the house, she was certain there were still some volumes kicking around that I might find of interest.

This kind gesture opened a whole new vista for me, and made the summer far more enjoyable. Trixie Belden, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, even Calling All Girls magazine-- I would borrow the items one or two at a time, read them cover to cover, and then exchange them for fresh reading material.

The loans from this informal neighbourhood library sharpened my reading skills, broadened my horizons, and kept me out of mischief through that summer. And the kindness and generosity of our neighbor in making the initial offer presents a example of the sense of community—and the fact that small gestures can indeed make a difference.