Monday, March 12, 2012

The Book Closet

    Has there ever been anyone who fancied himself a writer who wasn't first a fiend for reading? I know it happens. There is always someone around who looks at what writers do and they think "I can do that."
    I'm not talking about those uninformed souls.
    When I moved to my grandparent's house at age 4, they had just finished building it. It was a two-story house with living quarters over the gas station at Seward Junction. The stairwell being more or less central in the house created some interesting closet spaces. There was an understair closet on the ground floor that was used for various camping and other equipment storage. There was also a hidden space behind it I didn't find till much later.
    It is a bit difficult to explain how it was, but the stair had a landing and switchback to the second floor. A small storage closet was built on the second floor where my grandmother kept the ironing supplies and similar things.
    At some point I discovered the best part of that closet. It had bookshelves on both sides! When my father had moved away from his parents years before he had left several of his books behind. There were several mystery novels, a few World War II adventure novels, and a wonderful set of the Book of Knowledge from about 1940. I remember it had the annual update volumes up through the late '40's. There were also other books my grandparents owned, or had been given.
    The floor of the closet was about four feet off of the floor. For a very long time it was much too high for me to get into. Not long after I began reading, I discovered the treasure trove of books within and I hounded my grandmother to let me explore them.
    I made use of a small step-ladder for several years. I moved things to one side so I could crawl up into the narrow closet, nestle myself between the shelves, and stay for hours. We found a small light made for a sewing machine that I could clamp onto a shelf. I would swing the door somewhat closed, so that it wasn't a hazard to passersby, and hibernate with my books. Not unlike Harry Potter under the stairs, I suppose, although this was my voluntary retreat!
    I always loved the smell of old books. I know now that it is the smell of the books decaying and moldering, but to my young nostrils it was fine incense. I would sit there between the shelves for hours on end, flying sorties with Dave Dawson at Guadalcanal and Dunkirk or sailing with Captains Courageous.
    I loved browsing through the Book of Knowledge. The layout was wonderful for browsers. It was quite onerous in later years to try and look anything up directly. It was necessary to utilize the index, and generally pull several volumes until you found what you wanted. However, for random browsing it held my interest very well.
    It was not unlike the news feed today in Yahoo!  or Facebook. You never really knew what you stumble over next, but it was likely to be interesting, and you could take the thread and follow it.
    For a few years that closet was my reader's world.
    In the mid '50's through the mid '60's the school in Liberty Hill had all twelve grades in one old two story brick building. It was built in 1929, the year my grandfather, W.K. Seward graduated, and torn down in 1969, a year after I graduated. For most of those years the school had no central library. Each class-room had a few bookshelves with whatever books had collected there. Many were no doubt donated by the individual teachers.
    I devoured every book possible in all of those classrooms.
    Liberty Hill had no public library. I'm not sure I knew what one was until I visited my mother and step-father in Loving, New Mexico in 1957 and she took us to a library there. I thought it was amazing! You could take books home and read them, bring them back and get more. You could browse to your heart's content, and it was free! I spent all of that visit reading those new found books.
    It wasn't until the mid '60's that I had that experience again. My father was living in Conroe, Texas, and the library was only a couple of blocks away from his house. I visited in the summer for a couple of weeks and re-discovered libraries.
    In my Junior year of High School, the school finally pulled all the books together into one central school library. I finally was able to find a few of those books that I hadn't read before, books that must have been in classrooms I wasn't in.
    I was in the school library a lot. I met my first wife in there. It was a small school, of course, everyone knew everyone, but it was in that library that we actually started talking to each other.
    Liberty Hill lost its school for a few years after I graduated. I went to college, married, moved away. I actually became a card carrying library member in the Austin Public Library, then the Round Rock Public Library. I was even a library volunteer for many years. I also have to number among my libraries the college library at Central Texas College in Killeen and the complex of libraries at University of Texas and Austin Community College. All wonderful.
    Librarians are so cool! I've been in love with one or two!
    Finally, another marriage and much mileage later I returned to Liberty Hill. I was lucky enough to become a founding member, and  then an elected Trustee of the newly formed Liberty Hill Public Library. Awesomeness! I even got to be evening librarian at LHPL for a time.
    I no longer live in Liberty Hill. I use the libraries in Bastrop, Elgin and Giddings.
    My own, much trimmed down library of books now has a home in my office trailer. It is my current version of that small book closet from my childhood. I even still have a few of those old books around me. Old wonderful friends.
    Old friends are the best friends.

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