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The shame of summer

POSTED: June 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.

School has officially been out a week and my child is already bored.

"You need to get me some summer activities lined up," he told me the other day.

He has a week of art camp coming up; what more did he need?

"What did you do when you were bored?" he wanted to know.

I never struggled with being bored when I was a child.

I loved summer - all three wonderful months that we had back in the golden age of the ‘80s.

And the day after school officially ended, I woke at some ungodly hour to get ready for Mama to take me to the library.

My night-shift working Mama was not too happy with this act either.

"Can you wait til I get up?" she would mumble, her head shoved under a pillow.

I poked her again.

"No, the good books will be gone by then."

She groaned; she kind of sounded like she was in some sort of physical pain.

"Go put some coffee on and I will take you."

Yes, I was 7 and I knew how to make coffee.

I've been making coffee most of my life.

Even though Mama loved books, she didn't understand that to me, the library was a sacred place.
While other kids were going to places that seemed like big adventures - like Florida - I went to the library and escaped to a new world between the pages.

The smell of the library was the best scent ever, and when I walked in, I always paused for a deep inhale.

Like puppy breathe, the musty smell of yellowing volumes of knowledge is either something you love - or you hate.

Mama hated it.

"Get your books and let's go," Mama rushed me.

I could stay lost for hours in the stacks, looking over books and gazing at the covers.
She didn't understand how I could spend all day, every day in the library.

"I don't know what finally happened," she reminisced one day. "But you had about a couple of years you didn't ask me to take you to the library."

I knew exactly what happened.

I had checked out a book - I could not remember what it was - and lost it.

I had returned the other slew of books I had and there were several and was dismayed to be told by the librarian, I was one short.

This was ages before the computer would tell you what the book was, who checked it out and when it was due.

I knew I had checked out the daily limit of books and was missing one when it came time to take them back.

"It's not that much," I had told myself about the late fees. "I will find it and pay it."

But I never did.

I searched high and low for that book.

I even went so far as to clean my room.

Still no book.

I lived in utter fear.

Back then, you just knew things like overdue library books and tearing the tags off your mattress were high crimes and punishable offenses.

I shook every time I saw a police car. Were they coming to take me in for that book?

I hid that shame and didn't share it with anyone. But it sure made my summers miserable. I lived for the school year where I could check out books in the shame-free confines of the school library.

Then one summer day, as I sat in the floor of Mama's bedroom, going through some of her drawers, I found it.

The book.

The long-lost, sacred book.

I immediately squealed with delight! I could be a free child once more!

I ran to tell my uncle because the only person who I knew wouldn't fuss was him.

"Uncle Bobby! I gotta take this book back to the library! It's late - will you take me and pay the overdue library fees?"

"How long has it been overdue?" my uncle asked.

"Two years," I answered honestly.

"Oh dang." That's about the worse language he's ever said. So that was a big deal.

He checked his wallet and scooped some change up, just in case, and off to the library we went.

When we walked in, I hid behind my uncle, scared the library police would come in and swoop me off to some book prison. I was toting a book that was past due for over two years.

We walked up to the desk, my uncle taking the book from me to hand to the librarian.

"My niece needs to return this book; it's past due. So we have some late fees to take care of," he said.

"When was it due?" the library asked.

"Two years ago," I said.

Hey - I may keep the books for two years but I am honest.

"Oh, oh my," she said, reaching for the book.

"Oh dang," my uncle muttered.

I braced myself for the worst.

Instead, a small miracle happened.

"This book was actually retired from our shelves that summer," the librarian asked.

"What does that mean?" my uncle asked.

"That means," the librarian began, "You can actually keep the book if you'd like. It is no longer one we are circulating. So there's no late fees."

I didn't want to keep it. It had brought me great shame.

I thanked her profusely instead.

As my uncle and I walked out of the vast space that was the library, I asked him if we could go to Dairy Queen to celebrate.

"I saw that one coming," he said as we got in the car to take me to my ice cream bliss.

Bored? I reflected on Cole's question.

How was I ever bored? I had the library to keep me entertained - and for a while there, in more ways than one.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."

 

 

 

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