When Aunt Bea first heard that a snake was loose, she dropped everything and made a beeline next door to the library.
“Nobody better kill that blacksnake or they’ll answer to me!” she thundered as she barged in, facing ten scared-to-death women huddled in a corner.
“We’re trying to keep an eye on it til Orville gets here,” Lucy sobbed.
Aunt Bea placed her hands on her ample hips. “If that snake turns out to be Ole Tom, my blacksnake, I want him back. I’ve kept him supplied with mice for years and I don’t want Orville shooting him just for sport. Now, where is Ole Tom?"
Ola, the part-time librarian, pointed to the third shelf from the bottom on Aisle A-F. “We think he’s behind those books there.”
Like a soldier at the Battle of Brittany, Aunt Bea charged down the aisle, flinging books in every direction “You can pick these up later. I want my snake before Orville gets here and all you scaredy cats tell him where to shoot!”
Reaching in, she pulled the three foot long blacksnake out by the tail, unfazed by its squirming to escape.
“This is Ole Tom all right. I know because I once hit him with a hoe and he’s got a scar on his back to prove it. Right here! See it?”
As four of the women bolted for the door, Ola screamed, “Put that thing down, Aunt Bea, before you hurt yourself!”
Aunt Bea grabbed the snake from behind its head and hurried home.
The Friends of the Library ladies composed themselves and began returning the books to their proper places when Orville arrived. Talking around the well-worn briar pipe held firmly between his teeth, he inquired what the commotion was about.
Finally, after listening to the ladies’ loud and frightened chattering, he thrust his calloused hands deep into his overall pockets and leaned back against a shelf of books.
“Ladies, that snake wouldn’t hurt a fly and besides Aunt Bea has it, so go on about your business and forget about it.”
He went onto the porch but not before turning to say, “You do know that snakes travel in pairs, don’t you?” With that, he hurried to his beat-up Ford pickup, laughing as he sped away.
Beaver Creek public library was the gathering place for the community. The fact that it even existed was a surprise to most folks. A meager subsidy from the county paid the part-time librarian’s salary and the utilities bill. The use of the building was donated.
The building itself was a converted tobacco barn, which still looked and smelled like a tobacco barn. But with a few throw rugs here and there and a donated rocking chair or two, women came every day to chat and check out armloads of used books.
Ola held an open house every Christmas, decorated a tree and invited the community to bring wrapped gifts for the underprivileged children of the area. There were yard sales and fund-raiser picnics during the year to encourage use of the library and get people back to reading like they did before the advent of television.
It all changed the day “The Letter” arrived. It was signed by the head librarian in Hayesville and stated simply:
This is to inform you that Beaver Creek public library will be officially
closed as of August 1. Since most of your books were donated, you may dispose of them in any way you choose.
The funds heretofore earmarked for your library will be used to purchase thirty new computers for the main county library in hopes of increasing dwindling circulation here.
The community outrage was palpable. Some wanted to sell the books, others voted to give them away. In the end, nobody won.
One moonless night, the Baucus brothers, illiterate, indigent and in trouble with the law, consumed more than their usual share of moonshine from Ralph Monroe’s still. They quietly set fire to the library, insisting “it would show those people at the main library that they can’t treat us country folk this way.”
The fire was discovered too late. Among the still-smoking remains were charred pages of an original, complete set of Thornton Burgess’ Mother West Wind stories which Ola always kept in pristine condition, its value beyond measure.
I picked them up, remembering how often as a child I had curled up contentedly in Daddy’s easy chair reading “Reddy Fox.”
And I wept.
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