Under the maple tree’s widespread branches, bicycles rest, some uprightly on their kickstands, others prone imprinting the grass. A few cars and a couple pick-up trucks line the road’s shoulder. Kids and adults queue up as they see me coming, their arms, knapsacks or tote bags full of books.
At the railroad crossing, I look both ways down tracks carving an aisle between strawberry fields and acres of corn and then continue on towards the quiet crowd. They’ve left enough space for me to maneuver my bulky vehicle under the tree.
I’m the driver of the summer bookmobile here in a small Pacific Northwest county in this year of our Lord 1965. Been doing this for a couple of summers now. During the rest of the year I teach high school English.
The groceries I buy are supplied by farming communities like this one. Agriculture may root these people to the earth but their souls sprout wings and fly via the pages of books. Most of them have precious little time to spend on the thirty-mile drive to the closest library. I feel privileged and honored to provide a means for their flight.
Opening the door I smile broadly at the freckled face of the young lady climbing up the steps.
“Hi, Mr. A,” she says. “I finished all ten of my books. My grandma told me there was no way I could read all of ‘em and shell the peas for canning at the same time. Well, I don’t need my eyes for shelling peas, for pete’s sake! Just my fingers! And I didn’t get any stains on the pages either!”
“Good for you, Trudy. I knew you could do it.” I take her stack of books and put them in a bin.
I hear snickering behind me. I know the source before I even see them.
“Donny and Ronny, what’s going on?” I ask.
Identical towheads duck down, pretending they don’t hear me.
“Gentlemen,” I lean over them and pry the harlequin romance book from their eleven-year old hands. “I suggest you apply your attention to reading material more suited to your age and interest. And don’t tell me it was for your mom. I know your mother and her preference is more along the lines of the classics. Matter of fact, you guys are old enough for Charles Dickens.”
“But Mr. A.,” they protest in duet.
“No buts. Here.” I thrust Oliver Twist into Donny’s hands and David Copperfield into Ronny’s. “That should keep you busy for the next two weeks.”
“Mr. A! I need help finding a book!” Lilly, arms akimbo, glares at me through her thick glasses. Although she’s only ten she reminds me of my elderly aunt, always very serious and severe.
“What kind of book?” I ask.
“One that will keep me from getting in trouble next time my mom asks me to weed the garden!”
I cock my head to one side. “Oh, dear, Miss Lilly. What kind of trouble?”
“Well, I was supposed to pull out all the weeds from the rows of carrots. And I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Our garden has an awful lot of weeds, Mr. A. But when my mom came out to check on me she hollered at me somethin’ fierce. She said I was pulling the carrots up instead! I really couldn’t see what was different between ‘em. I felt so stoooopid. But then I figured you might have a book that will show me!”
“Come right this way,” I escort her to the shelf of gardening books. Crouching down beside her, I look into her face. “And you’re not stupid, Lilly. Maybe gardening just isn’t your forte.”
“What’s ‘fortay’ mean, Mr. A.?”
“Your specialty—what you do best and enjoy the most.”
“Oh.” She ponders for a moment, then, “Driving books around is your ‘fortay’, huh, Mr. A.?”
I chuckle and nod.
“How will I know what my ‘fortay’ is?” she asks.
“You know, Lilly, I think you have a few more summers before you need to figure that one out. You keep on reading books, all kinds of books, and it will come to you. Maybe…it’ll be to write books yourself someday.”
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this child’s face light up in a smile.
This is what keeps me signing up for a bookmobile route every summer. I hope I’ll still be driving it when Lilly’s books are on the shelves behind me.
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