Love Letter Legacy

I won’t sugar-coat it. Christmas this year kind of sucked. I mean, it was good to be with family, but the gathering was because we knew my mom was not going to live much longer. My family and I arrived in the early hours of her 87th birthday, December 24, and that was the last day she was somewhat coherent and knew us (a blessing in itself). She breathed her last late in the evening of December 27th (although hospice confirmed it in the wee hours of the 28th, so that is her official death date). Her obituary is here. (Incidentally, this followed on the heels of losing my mother-in-law in October and brother-in-law in November.)

The blessing side was having family together to surround her. During those final days, she was never alone (whether she knew it or not). Between dad, my sister’s family, and my family, someone was always there to talk to her, read to her, sing hymns and carols to her. She died peacefully and entered heaven’s glory. What a blessing to know that fact and rejoice even in sorrow.

In the days following the funeral as we began to help my dad adjust to his new normal, he shared lots of fun stories. This one stands out and I simply have to share it, for it is the power of the written word and letters to begin a legacy of love that, for my parents, lasted for 67 years.

The power of the written word and letters begins a legacy of love that, for my parents, lasted for 67 years.

My dad shared the story that, home from college during his senior year, he went to the local roller rink for an evening. A lovely young woman caught his eye. He finally got a chance to skate with her and was able to get her name and city: “Reva Grover, Corry” (Corry, PA). Then she went home with another guy, saying he couldn’t take her home because she didn’t know him.

But dad couldn’t forget her. So from his dorm room at college 300 miles away, he wrote her a letter, telling us that the envelope had nothing more than her name, city, and state (this was pre-zip code days). He mailed it on the truly off chance that she would ever receive it.

And thank goodness for small towns, because the letter found its way to her.

The actual letter my dad sent with only my mom’s name and her city and state because that was all the information he had. Notice the cost of the stamp (3 cents!).

My daughter went to mom’s “hope chest,” which has been in their bedroom for my entire life. Sure enough, buried beneath various memories was a box of every letter she and my dad exchanged, starting with this one. We couldn’t believe we had the actual letter!

Of course, we wondered what in the world dad had said in this letter so, with his permission, we pulled it out and read it aloud. The letter began: “9/23/54 Hi, This is going to be a shot in the dark if I ever made one.”

Then, of course we wondered what she had said in return. Finding that letter, we pulled it out and read it aloud.

My dad, leaned back in his easy chair and said upon our finishing that letter, “Well, don’t stop now!”

So began an evening reading each back-and-forth letter as my parents, having only met once, began to learn about each other. They asked questions about family and about faith. There were local Corry football scores from mom; tales of fraternity life, final exams, and chorus travels from dad. The letters became more and more frequent with Thanksgiving being their next opportunity to meet. Clearly their first official date and time together went well, for the post-Thanksgiving pre-Christmas letters become more frequent, all the while both of them counting the days until Christmas when they would meet again (on her birthday, December 24).

Clearly, they had fallen in love over the Thanksgiving holiday and knew that Christmas was going to be very special.

Dad’s college photo on the left, mom’s high school photo on the right. Left bottom is the photo of mom pinning dad’s wings on him as he graduated Air Force ROTC from Colgate University in the spring of 1955.

Indeed, another set of letters from January to May surely lays out their future (we didn’t have time to get to those letters; dad said they were probably pretty mushy anyway). That next summer, after dad graduated from Colgate University, he proposed to mom and they were married in Corry, PA, on November 5, 1955.

Mom and Dad’s wedding photo.

Before she passed away, they’d had 66 years of marriage.

During those 66 years, they had also weathered a separation for eight months while my dad served his country in Viet Nam. Also buried in that hope chest are eight months’ of daily letters back and forth between them. A future task for me is to transcribe all of those letters, along with daily entries from my dad’s journal while he was there, as a legacy for our family.

I can’t help but feel that, in the future, we’ll be missing something of our heritage for our children and grandchildren and beyond without having physical letters. While I’m sure my dating parents would have been delighted by the technology of texts and phone calls without the prohibitive long-distance charges, I’m thankful they wrote (and my mom saved) these letters. It’s a window into their story.

A story that has become my own.

6 Masks I’ve Worn This Week: Pros & Cons

It’s a brand new school year and a brand new way of thinking and teaching. If I thought that going completely online with my classes last March was a challenge, I’m now trying to teach in masks. Below are pics of me trying these various masks and the pros and cons of each. 

I’m only a few days in and already trying to determine what’s going to work for me. I started with the standard mask that I’ve been wearing into stores since March.

Pros: Lightweight and easy to wear, easy to speak through. Cons: Soooo boring.

I purchased some nicer, heavier-duty masks that I thought would be healthier by maybe screening out those germy germs better …

Pros: Heavier duty (keep germs out better?). Cons: These pull on my ears and begin to give me a headache during an hour of teaching.

Received this cute one with cats on it from my sister. (Does anyone else find it odd that these masks are now fashion statements?)

mask-2
Pros: So cute! And so appropriate.
Cons: Kept slipping down as I talked and needed to constantly readjust. Best for wearing when I’m not going to be doing a lot of talking.

Received this one from our department chair who felt it would be especially appropriate for me.

mask-1
Pros: Yay for a grammar mask! Cons: Kept getting caught in my mouth as I talked. Best for silently correctly people’s grammar.

Got hold of this one because … well … school spirit.

mask-3
Pros: School colors, school logo. Comfy. Cons: As with most of the other masks, a bit of a fogging issue on my glasses.

But still, the issue became that I really like to smile at my students. It’s bad enough that I’m looking at masks and eyes and receiving very little feedback visually. It seems worse that they can’t get any kind of visual feedback from me. So I have now opted for this:

mask
Pros: I can smile at my students and they can see it. Cons: I look like a welder. It messes up my hair. When I speak, it goes straight into my own ears so I feel like I’m in an echo chamber. Beware of a sneeze or spit. Can’t wave my hands a lot. Can’t scratch my nose or eyes. Oh, and I can’t take a drink with it on, unless I have a loooong straw.

So, why choose the one mask with the most cons? Well, I feel like the ability to offer some kind of visual feedback to my students is very important — hair, spit, echoes, itchy nose, and all.

Around campus, I’ve seen masks of various materials, colors, and styles. We are indeed making these into statements to try to reflect a bit about ourselves, even … ahem … behind the mask.

What about you? How are you dealing with the masking situation and what are you doing to make your masks reflect you?

Good Old Summertime: Or Why I Got Nothing Done and I’m Okay with It

I truly tried. I had a list. I had a schedule. I had good intentions. I was going to GET STUFF DONE.

Write some articles. Work with writing prompts. Submit. Start a more vigorous exercise program. Learn InDesign and Google Analytics. Write some letters.

Image courtesy memegenerator.net

Instead, you know what I did? Not that.

I rested. I slept. I read books. I spent more time in God’s Word. My husband and I spent many hours deciding on paint colors for our three rebuilt rooms. I cheered him on as he painted all those rooms (I offered to help, but he knows my shoulder problems would only be made worse). We brought some furniture to replace what was destroyed in the fire. We bought a dining room set at a garage sale. We planted and maintained our gardens.

Painting, painting, painting.
Butterfly garden in its third year. Mostly perennials, a few annuals.

I freelanced on a manuscript style tagging job. I ran our Taylor University Professional Writers’ Conference again — only virtually this time, with great help from my Taylor University IT friend and fellow writer and editor T.R. Knight, who managed our Zoom conference with great skill and patience.

But, honestly, I feel like I accomplished nothing.

I frustrate myself so often. What is it that makes me create lists and check off the little tasks (buy coffee) but let the bigger ideas, the longer-term items (finish that creative nonfiction article) go from week to week in my schedule book, carried over as if I can do so indefinitely?

What makes those writing tasks so hard for me?

Some if it is rejection. Some of it is imposter-syndrome. Some of it is being just plain tired. I could blame the pandemic and all of the stress of online teaching this past spring. I could blame the pandemic for lack of personal contact with many of the people I love most. I could blame the worries over the many issues bombarding our world today and how my brain is tired trying to navigate them. I could blame our house rebuild that has dragged on because of scheduling issues with various contractors. I could blame my age.

OR I could just let it go and say it’s okay. I did what I did and it was all good. Time with books and in God’s Word and resting were probably what I most needed considering everything else going on in my life and in our world.

Yeah, I think I’ll go with that.

I’m a Type A personality who always feels the need to “be accomplishing something.” Everything I do needs to be something I can check off a list or post on Goodreads or have something to show for it. My writing so often doesn’t. It sits on my computer because no one else should ever see it. Or I took the chance to send it out and get rejected.

Maybe I need to add “take a nap” and “get a rejection letter” and “write X number of terrible pages” to my daily to-do list.

That’s actually not a bad idea. I could at least trick my brain into thinking I’m accomplishing something. I already know that rejections and terrible pages are the stuff of good writing (well, probably naps as well).

And I’m okay with that.

An Ode to My Typewriter

Sitting here typing away on my laptop has become second nature. There are moments, however, when I fondly recall my old Smith-Corona typewriter. What a treat it was to carry it to college in its snazzy case — my first electric typewriter. Toggle the on button, listen for the whir, insert bright white paper, roll down to an inch from the top margin. And type.

The force needed to push the keys on my old manual typewriter gave way to easier tapping. But alas, errors had to be either carefully erased with a clean eraser or whited out with the ever-present bottle of appropriately named Wite-Out or with Liquid Paper. (Fun fact: Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith — member of 1960s band The Monkees?) I loved to use “onion-skin” paper because it was so much easier to erase — the surface just didn’t hold the ink as well. Teachers hated it because it also made the papers extremely difficult to read. (As a college prof now always reading printed papers, I publicly apologize to all my own college profs who suffered through such papers from me!)

Ribbons would run out and need to be replaced, causing your paper to appear in two tones. Not paying attention could cause you to type for several words with nothing appearing on the page. Not paying attention might also cause you to type right off the bottom of the sheet of paper, which meant either retyping the page or slathering Wite-Out across the entire bottom of the sheet of paper and blowing on it until it would (eventually) dry. Same thing with making sure you heard the ding at the right margin and reached up to push the carriage back to start the next line.

Some days, when I’m writing and backspacing with ease on my laptop (no clumsy erasers or Wite-Out bottles in sight), when I’m moving paragraphs around and changing my mind only to move them somewhere else, I think how different my college papers would have been with this amazing machine instead of my clunky Smith-Corona. Would I have done a final revision, knowing I should move a new paragraph to the beginning but also knowing that would mean retyping the entire paper? I’m sure, too often, the pages were just left as they were because it would have been far too much trouble and too time-consuming to retype.

Ernest-Hemingway-1929-Underwood-Standard FAKE
What might have been Hemingway’s typewriter, as seen at The Atlantic, “The Hidden World of Typewriters.”

Which also gives me awe for the likes of Hemingway and, indeed, those classic writers, who worked by hand and on manual typewriters. Hemingway once told The Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Whether he did this on a notepad or on a trusty typewriter, I honestly am amazed at picturing him yanking the paper out of the typewriter, scrolling in a new piece, taking a drag on a cigarette, and trying again and again and again until he was satisfied.

All of this makes me happy to report that typewriters are apparently making a comeback. Young people have always had screens and easy-to-push keys. I wonder if they are finding some kind of tangible joy in the feel of a typewriter and getting one that “fits” them individually — has the right angles, the right tension, even the right lines and color.

I have a couple of old typewriters that merely decorate my office, although my 11-year-old grandson is fascinated and attempts to type against the ancient ribbon each time he visits.

Now I’m thinking I need to clean it up, try to find a usable ribbon, and work my hand and wrist muscles a bit.

Nah. Writing is hard enough. But I still admire Hemingway.

Those of you readers who typed on typewriters, what do you miss (or not)?

 

Just a Smell

It is just a smell.

Something in the air as I walk across campus. It strikes with subtle but unmistakable force. It makes me stop, sniff.

It isn’t Chick-Fil-A or the lunch aroma from the college dining commons.

In fact, I can’t pinpoint or describe the smell; it is simply in the air. Closing my eyes, the smell has transported me. I am at Houghton College, walking the sidewalk that encompassed the quad, a new freshman, terrified, lonely, missing my family, worried about being a failure, that I can’t cut this whole college thing.

Now, as I stand on the sidewalk surrounded by the buildings of Taylor University where I teach, I am not here — I am traveling in time. I am not a publishing professional and faculty member. I am an eighteen year old with no fashion sense and big glasses and low self-esteem. A girl who doesn’t know what she wants to major in or why she’s at college or who will be her new friends or if she’ll have friends at all.

Standing here in these passing moments, I open my eyes and see a a lone student slouching toward me, eyes downcast, heavy backpack, sad face. My heart goes out to him. I know, in that moment exactly how the young man is feeling. Exactly. I am right there with him. Overwhelmed with distress from four decades ago.

I want to grab him, to hug him, to tell him it’s all going to be okay. He’ll figure it out as each day goes by. Tell him that God will be faithful. Tell him to just take it a day at a time, a step at a time.

But of course, I don’t. I can’t. The young man walks by. I sniff again and return to the present. But I vow that any moment I can, I will tell these dear students with their wide eyes and their fears and worries that it will indeed be okay.

I can testify to it.

It is just a smell. But how powerful the memories it evokes. It gives me a mission, for it reminds me that four decades ago I, too, was slouching along a sidewalk, overwhelmed, deeply distressed, trying to figure out life. God walked with me each step of the way.

All it took was a smell.

Getting It Done

I don’t know where anyone gets the idea that professors have summers off. I mean, I haven’t had to dress up every day, put on makeup, and fix my hair (so there’s that), but every day has been filled with tasks.

This summer brought some changes to my job — some new classes to teach. Some fears and disappointments. Some outright shocking situations.

Then I’ve had freelance work with multiple frustrations and clients missing deadlines (which meant the “hurry” part landed on me).

And I’ve been planning a writers’ conference.

On a few of these hot summer days, it all got to be too much. Moments of feeling completely overwhelmed. I won’t lie. I shed buckets of tears of fear and frustration and anger. And I felt inadequate to the tasks.

My kind husband took me for a few drives and let me cry and spout my fears, while he just listened. Then, in a break in my tirade against the unfair world, he would remind me that I’m capable of handling the new challenges.

I needed to slow down, breathe, and remember who I am.

breath

I think about you all out there, my readers. The ones I don’t know. The ones who are new friends, like Terry, who met me at a conference last week and thanked me for both my book and this site. The old friends. All of you are facing your own challenges every day. I don’t know what might be going on in your life right now, but I want you to know that I’m thinking of you and saying a prayer for you.

We’re all just trying to do this thing called life the best we can. If we’re people of faith (as I am), we know that everything is part of God’s bigger plan. That it all happens for a reason. That it’s all under control.

When I remember that, when I remember that this is all bigger than me, then I can trust that God will give me the strength to do what he’s called me to do. The task is not too big. Not when I remember who I am and whose I am.

My friends, whatever you’re facing today, you will not just survive but thrive.

We can get it done.

Message me on this site or write me at lindataylor5558{at}gmail.com and let me know how I can pray for you.

Editing and Life

Last year we bought a house. An old old house. It was built in 1911, so it’s over a century old. We wanted a place where grandkids could come and hang out and build memories. We love this place. It has a great room and a big fireplace, and this past Christmas we were able to have everyone together to celebrate. Fireplace and all. Magical.

Christmas 2017

But you can’t move into a new place without doing some “editing.” Some of it is important due to the needs of the seasons (hello new furnace and new gutters), and some is merely cosmetic.

house-2Then, there’s the man of the house who wants to edit, well, everything. First, the giant tree in the front was taken down — to get it to stop spitting pine tar on our vehicles and dropping pine needles everywhere. Then he spent three weeks prepping that garden area that was filled with river rock into a spot for a perennial garden. He found a layout in a magazine, we purchased all the required plants, and then we worked together to plant them. This “editing” has transformed our curb appeal.

Now, he’s taking off (carefully) the asbestos siding. I wasn’t ready for that edit at all. “It’s fine as is,” I pled. But I should have known he was right. He happily discovered the original house still intact underneath a layer of asbestos and cardboard. We hope we can edit this lady back to her former glory.

 

 

I got to thinking how difficult it is for me to edit my own work. I can do the “have to” things — fix spelling and punctuation, revise a convoluted sentence, and recheck all my tenses (sort of like putting in a new furnace and hanging new gutters). But unlike my husband, I’m not really ready to take what is “okay,” dismantle it, and start over to make it “great.” I’m too happy with good enough, or livable, or fine.

If I just took the time, I could make my writing so much better. I type it and think it’s great. But if I take the time to let it sit a day, a week, I go back and see a plethora of things that need revision and ask, “Why didn’t I see this before?” Well, it needed to rest, and I needed to come back with a fresh set of eyes. Nothing’s ever great on the first pass — nothing. And you could just put up with it. You could leave the asbestos siding and the drippy gutters and the tar-spitting tree.

Or, you could catch a vision for what could be with that piece you’re writing and be willing to take the time to dig and pull nails and scrape and wash and plant because, in the end, it just might have a beauty beyond what you even thought when you started.

And sometimes we make life edits. We change course; we walk through a newly opened door after another one closed right in front of us. Life edits are just as difficult. We could stick with that “good enough” job, or we could take that risk and try something new.

We must edit everything — houses, words, lives — slowly and carefully with wisdom and great care. We will find that beauty if we take the time.

 

Saying No to the Nay-sayers

The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I stopped in my tracks, astounded. It’s so BIG! For some reason, in my mind, it stood much smaller over Paris. But walking toward it, seeing it close up, standing under it and looking up, the thing is massive. Thousands upon thousands of pieces of iron — each had been perfectly cut and angled, then riveted together in a lacy pattern. When it was completed in 1889, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time. At 984 feet, it nearly doubled the up-until-then tallest structure, the 555-foot tall Washington Monument (which opened in 1888).

Paris
That’s me on the left in my awesome wide 1970s pants, my mom, and my little sister in front of the Eiffel Tower circa 1974.

I’m currently reading a book titled Eiffel’s Tower (Jill Jonnes, Penguin, 2009) about the building of the tower, which went up iron piece by iron piece during 1887 through 1889 as the focal point for the Exposition Universelle, the World’s Fair in 1889.

But as it was ascending — the four legs at the base going up separately and slowly uniting at the first platform — Parisians were not too fond of it. They feared that it would draw lightning, change the weather, or fall over (indeed, without the intensive and minute calculations of Gustave Eiffel, it well may have). Many tried to stop it. A letter signed by several important Parisians said this (with a slight insult to America):

For the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris. Everyone feels it, everyone says it, everyone is profoundly saddened by it, and we are only a weak echo of public opinion so legitimately alarmed. When foreigners visit our Exposition, they will cry out in astonishment, “Is it this horror that the French have created to give us an idea of their vaunted taste?” . . . And for the next twenty years we will see cast over the entire city, still trembling with the genius of so many centuries, cast like a spot of ink, the odious shadow of the odious column of bolted metal. (27)

Ouch.

It was supposed to be temporary, the tower; then it was given a reprieve to stand for twenty years. And that was in 1889. Clearly, the tower has come to symbolize Paris itself and, if the plethora of Eiffel Towers on everything from lamps to stationery to jewelry is any indication, it has become a well-loved icon. (I have little Eiffel Towers everywhere. Ahem.)

The point is that Gustave Eiffel kept building. He believed in his structure; he saw the beauty when those watching its slow ascent across the Parisian skyline couldn’t see it.

Thinking of nay-sayers, I’m reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald. When The Great Gatsby hit fitzgeraldthe shelves in April 1925, a review of the book in the St. Louis Dispatch said, “Altogether it seems to us this book is a minor performance. At the moment, its author seems a bit bored and tired and cynical. There is no ebullience here, nor is there any mellowness or profundity. For our part, The Great Gatsby might just as well be called Ten Nights on Long Island” (Reach).

In June of 1925, the author Edith Wharton weighed in, fancying herself a better editor than Maxwell Perkins: “To make Gatsby really Great, you ought to have given us his early career (not from the cradle—but from his visit to the yacht, if not before) instead of a short resume of it. That would have situated him & made his final tragedy a tragedy instead of a fait divers for the morning papers” (Reach).

By the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, he had made a little over thirteen dollars in royalties on the book.

But like the Eiffel Tower, The Great Gatsby has become an icon to later generations.

The point? Don’t give up on what you’re doing — your book, that poem, the painting, whatever creation is before you. Don’t worry about the nay-sayers. If you believe in it, if you’re doing what you perceive is your best work, then just keep on doing it.

You just never know what will happen.

Jonnes, Jill. (2009.) Eiffel’s Tower. New York: Penguin.
Reach, Kirsten. “Ten Nights on Long Island: The Great Gatsby’s Early Reviews,” 9 May 2013, mhpbooks.com/ten-nights-on-long-island-the-great-gatsbys-early-reviews/. Accessed 24 Jan. 2017.

 

 

Loving Letters and Letter Writing

The students in my Social Media Strategy class are required to create a blog and post on it at least four times during the semester. I’m always amazed at their interests and how they want to present themselves. Last semester, one student began a blog about, of all things, letter writing!

A woman after my own heart.

I have long been a fan of letters — pretty stationery, matching envelopes, a return address, an address, a colorful stamp. In my junior-high days, I even had a kit where I could melt a little bit of wax on the back of the envelope and press it with a brass monogram to create a seal (so very royal of me, I know). Letters were how I stayed in touch, how I let people know I was remembering them. And I wanted to do that. It was important to me.

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Pretty stationery is the best! (Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash)

As a college student in the 1970s, seeing that diagonal line of a leaning envelope through the window of my college mailbox meant — YAY! — mail! It meant a card from a high school friend, an update from my parents or grandparents or numerous aunts and cousins. Once in a while I received thick updates from my high school friends. They usually wrote on notebook paper, pages and pages (I recall one 17-page tome), front and back, numbered pages, with their familiar handwriting. They were the friends who had scattered to the winds after high school in Bonn, Germany. Some came back to the States, others stayed on in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, or if they were ambassadors’ kids they often went back to their home country for college. We missed one another and were hungry for news. We’d been deep in one another’s lives for years — formative years — and we cared about where life was taking us in our various corners of the world.

Later, after college, by far the BEST mail was another thick envelope, a round-robin letter. Two sets of my college friends started these letters to keep us in touch. Instead of writing separate letters to the other three in a group, we could write one letter, pop it in an envelope, and send it to the next person on the list. Then each person put in a letter.

When the round-robin envelope came back, I sat for an entire evening reading three thick letters overflowing with news from my dearest friends. Then I pulled out my old letter, re-read it, and wrote a new one with news picking up from where the last one left off. I added my new letter to theirs and sent the whole batch on. Sometimes it took a few months for the envelope to arrive back. Sometimes photos were included — an engagement ring, a wedding, a new baby. We hugged one another from afar, again caring about lives who had become so much a part of our own.

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Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Then along came email and Facebook and our letters went out of style. With a click we could upload pictures. We could follow one another’s lives. We could email and copy everyone else and not have to wait for months.

As nice as that is, I miss those thick letters. Probably for the same reason that I love books over e-books, I love letters over e-mail.

But if it means communication, I’m happy for anything.

Yet there IS something about a letter. As it says in this post from The Pen Company, “8 reasons to send snail mail today,” sending a letter shows you care, it’s “on a whole other level.”

I am a sucker for stationery and note cards. I try to send handwritten thank-yous at least. But I’d like to get back to taking the time to connect with the people who matter most to me. The ones who shaped my life in one way or another.

Because a letter shows a whole other level of caring. And that’s what I want to show as well.

What about you? Do you still write letters?

 

Little Libraries and Why I Love Them

When we moved from a city in Chicagoland that boasted a “Top Ten Library,” I somewhat despaired. That was the library where I diligently took my children a couple times a month. We routinely checked out and returned and checked out and returned piles of children’s books. This library did indeed have a stellar selection, the latest technologies, and wonderful ambiance.

We have since lived in two small towns in Indiana, both boasting libraries. I was thrilled to locate the first town’s library. I paid my twenty-dollar fee to be a member, only to look around and find rows and rows of romantic paperbacks. “We take donations,” the elderly volunteer behind the desk informed me.

Obviously.

This was not the “Top Ten” library I had made use of for the last 26 years of my life. This was a little town library with just enough money to keep going. That’s okay, I told myself. There were a few biographies and memoirs here I could read. I checked out Stephen King’s On Writing, returned it on time, went to check out another, and a new elderly volunteer asked me if I still had On Writing at home and would I please return it.

“I did, last week,” I told her. I had dropped it off across the street in the plastic box under the desk by the entrance to the video store—the after-hours drop box. “Look, it’s here, on the shelf.” I didn’t want her to exert herself, so I walked over, pulled the book from the shelf and brought it to her. “See? Returned and back on the shelf.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, as she clicked around with the mouse on the computer and tried to find the screen she needed. I didn’t want to start out my sojourn in this little town as the lady who didn’t return library books!

We’ve since moved to another small town that boasts a library as well. Again, mostly donations, but this one I could join for free — just needed to prove my town address. “Do I need a library card?” I asked naively.

“No, we’ll recognize you.”

swayzee library
Our local library. Courtesy of swayzeepubliclibrary.com

The library is in a repurposed brick two-story building that appears to have once been a church. (The bricked-in arches above what are now square windows give me that impression.) The library has been serving this and the surrounding communities for almost a century.

My grandsons and I recently walked the two blocks from our home to visit on a chilly Saturday afternoon. They enjoyed the large Lego blocks and the plastic car track. I wandered the stacks, excited to find many actual readable books (sorry, paperback romances do not translate into my world as “readable”). There are enough current books, memoirs, and reference books to keep me busy.

“We’re not fully computerized yet, but we’re working on it,” one of the volunteers told me.

The library is a gathering place — offering a knitting and crocheting circle, activities for elementary children, and various and sundry lessons.

On a shelf beside the front door are “free” books. (Isn’t that sort of like offering candy to a baby?) The librarian told me they were mostly duplicates among donations. I found a memoir to add to my reading collection. My grandsons each found a book to take home as well.

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I love this little library. It’s clean and bright, and the folks are friendly. People drop in to make use of the free WiFi, pick up and return videos, send a fax, or read a magazine. While I was readying my grandsons to leave at closing time, the librarian kindly told me to take my time. “Someone just called and needs to use the Internet. I’m waiting for him.”

Yes, I have access to three huge university libraries, and I use them diligently for research and the love of my life: “inter-library loan.” Yes, there are websites that show me the “most beautiful libraries in the world” (swoon!).

But I think when I want to simply wander smaller stacks to find a new book to read, or when I want to repeat my earlier process and now take grandchildren to check out piles of books, we’ll walk the two blocks to our little local library.