The screen door opened with a pleasant creaking, stepping aside like an old friend to welcome me back from another time. The small room was quiet and still, row upon row of hardcover journeys, washed in dust-mote rays from a sandpaper sun. I remembered it then as it remembered me, a cathedral of words and ideas, people and places, each made for the other and strung along with syntax care— let no man rend them asunder!
Standing there, at the threshold of story, I read the shelves for memories. Down and to the left, a beloved collection of Bill Peet gems still promised their gentle humor. There, in the middle, the strange wit of Shell Silverstein beckoned. To the right, past a low-set row of glass-shuttered windows, a faded stack of Nat Geo’s cast an aging shadow on a complete series of tattered Hardy Boy adventures. I stood there reading my past.
For the first time since entering I was aware of the roar from a throaty, hand pushed lawn mower and, looking out the window, glimpsed it and its operator laboring methodically up a steep slope. It was my roll call, my soundtrack for reading those lost days growing up, and here, still, the piper played. All these things I noticed upon entering the simple library of my youth. But before all these there was the smell.
They say smell retains the strongest of memories. Each scent as we breathe it, each whiff of our lives, hitched fast to a thought, tucked snug in the vast filing slots of the mind, hermetically sealed and accessed again only by close simulation. Words have a smell, and the smell of words is like that of a rainforest— rich, musky, heavy like the damp of a soil that spawns giant trees. It was wisdom I smelled, and age, the smell of life, preserved for the coming on a page for the heart. I smiled as I smelled.
I smiled at the memory of story-time, there within those walls. I smiled For Whom the Bell Tolls, and wondered again Where the Red Fern Grows. I smiled at the memory of study hall, tempted by novels more novel than math. I smiled at the memory of knowledge pursued, and its detour when love walked in. My book eyes were hijacked by an auburn-haired girl; her smile stole my studies that day. I smiled at the thought of her smile.
The library girl is my everyday story now; we were married once upon a time. And every day since has unfurled like a fern, the tale of our happily ever after. Storm pages come, as do forest fire ones, and we turn them each one at a time. But we choose to read, in the life of the other, what we hope will be read in our own. And we trust for the happy ending, even when, on the cover, things looks grim.
Somewhere a door slams and I’m back in that room, holding a book, one of my favorites-- The Biggest Bear. I’ll read this to my children, I say. I won’t deny them their own memories, but— for now at least— their stories will begin where mine has been seeded, here in the soil of this library.