Sally Haworth spent her entire ninth summer alone with her fifty-two-year-old mother named Anne at the family’s lakeside log cabin. As the lazy weeks progressed, Sally passed countless hours chasing waves and collecting shells. Sometimes she sauntered along the quiet country road for hours at a time gathering wild daisies, Black-Eyed Susan’s, and Queen Anne’s lace to make bouquets for the porch table.
Periodically Anne and Sally took jaunts into town in the new green 1955 Dodge suburban. There Anne washed clothes at the Laundromat in the old abandoned train depot, purchased groceries from a low-ceilinged concrete block building where the air always smelled like raw meat, and bought three-cent stamps from the mysterious post office with its barred windows. Then they visited the majestic sand-colored brick library perched in the middle of town on a very high hill.
The library itself was a simple building, and yet seemed imposing and grand through Sally’s child-eyes, almost like a cathedral. They had to climb many concrete steps to reach the double glass doors with their enormous brass handles. She was awed by the hushed, subdued interior with its shafts of sunlight that created an atmosphere of reverence. There the ceiling fan rotated in slow motion over the head of Ruth, the librarian, to stir the humid air. It clicked rhythmically while the pull chain swung to its beat.
“Finished your reading?” the frizzy-haired Ruth whispered to Sally over the edge of her desk one July afternoon. Sally pushed her six volumes, the maximum number allowed, through the return slot with the swinging door. They thumped, one at a time, into the box on the other side in defiance of Ruth’s whisper.
“Yes. I read them ALL!” Sally whispered back.
“And which was your favorite?” Ruth said, leaning closer.
“The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore,” Sally replied while shuffling around to the back of the desk to get closer.
“What did you like about it?” Ruth persisted while peering nose-to-nose with Sally through round, wire-rimmed glasses with half-inch-thick lenses.
“Everything, but especially the beginning,” Sally said while shifting her weight from one rubber flip-flop to the other. “The train ride when Freddie’s duck named Downy got loose was funny …”
Ruth snickered softly. “Of course! What else?”
Out of the corner of Sally’s eye she saw her mother receding into dark shadows near some tall bookshelves. Ruth nodded in Anne’s direction as if to say no problem, I’ll keep my eye on her.
“Well, I liked how they went to Ocean Cliff near that little town called Sunset Beach – sort of like THIS little town near OUR lake. And how they spent August there with their Aunt and Uncle and got to meet their cousin, Dorothy ....”
The part about Dorothy seemed particularly interesting to Sally since she had no siblings and was without neighborhood playmates that summer. Ruth beamed congenially, content with Sally’s book review. “I suggest you try The Bobbsey Twins at Blueberry Island next.”
Sally nodded affirmatively and flip-flopped her way over to the children’s area, an almost-sacred place where books full of new friends and adventures stood neatly in rows on low, accessible shelves. As she moved up and down the aisles, the well worn, warped wooden floor creak-creaked beneath her feet, singing its hymn of praise.
Finally Anne stood beside her with her own armload of newly selected books. “Ready?” she whispered.
Sally glanced down at her stack of five. “Just one more?”
“Alright.” Anne sunk into an oversized oak chair and immersed herself in the opening pages of a new novel.
Sally finally selected a volume about a boy who owned a horse named Fury and added it to her collection. Clutching the books in her arms like treasures, she shuffled over to Ruth’s desk.
“Done?” Ruth asked with expectant raised eyebrows.
“I think so.”
Ruth systematically unfolded the front covers of Sally’s books and overlapped them in a long row, then pulled the cards out of their paper pockets and stamped each one with a new due date. If the books were returned late there would be a fine of one cent per day.
Then she scooted the stack of books toward Sally who quietly mouthed “thank you.” Ruth winked in reply as Anne held the double doors open. Sally walked into the summer sunshine holding her six precious treasures to her chest: divinely appointed books full of trustworthy companions who would fill lonely hours and expand, guide, and inspire her impressionable young heart.
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