By Marni Zarr
Beginning with summer trips to the library, books have always been a best friend and a place of discovery—stacks of them brought home, the heat simmering and enhancing their musty familiar smell. Since childhood I connected this as summer’s signature scent. Even now as an adult, entering a library triggers memories of my dad taking my sister and me downtown to check out as many books as our library tote could carry. Sometimes it was so overweight we ended up dragging it down the sun scorched sidewalk until dad would pick it up, on his face a knowing smile of “I told you so.”
Only 5 miles from our house, the city library seemed hours away. Childhood memories are like that, everything stretched out like silly putty: rooms enlarged as if viewing them through a magnifying glass, situations enhanced to the millionth. I still remember the day I turned six. The required afternoon nap seemed to stretch into my next year of life. A special occasion, nap time was spent in a royal way on my parent’s king-sized bed, the clock on their dresser ticking sluggishly while my heart pounded in double time, the excitement almost unbearable.
I felt that same excitement when entrenched in a good story. Once I’d devoured all of the “Little House on the Prairie” books—the series unwrapped itself in annual birthday gifts from my grandparents—mystery became my favorite genre. I ate up Nancy Drew in a day like a delicious dessert that demands to be finished. I remember lying on my bed, ceiling fan spinning above me, the flouncy bo-peepish butter yellow bedspread below me, my shag haircut propped up on a stack of pillows, and a big flip of dark brown curl in the back, my mind eating up the words.
One blistery day when my sister and I were elementary age, one of our favorite babysitters gave us a box of hand me downs, including a long wig, thick with blonde hair, that became the prop du jour. She and I fought over who would wear and who would style. Earlobes still unpierced, paper clips became hippie hoops or gypsy rings. With celebrities like Cher to emulate, we rocked and flicked that thick bushy blonde like no one’s business. With scarves tied around our heads and waist and 45’s and 78’s on the blue and white cased record player in my sister’s room, we danced the day away using our imaginations, at times sneaking our mom’s high heeled shoes and flashy accessories to switch it up to strutting runway star on the 70’s avocado green carpeting. I remember wearing the wig in a ponytail and paper clip earrings to Thrifty for an ice cream cone. I didn’t notice one hand-forged circle had fallen off until I got back in my dad’s truck and saw it lying on the floor. Unbeknownst to me, that one missing detail had transformed me from strutting model to swaggering pirate. I’m glad my parents were okay with things like that.
But there were many things they were not okay with. Books were a way to escape the rigidness that I felt kept me isolated and separate from the rest of my peers. My first glimpse of sex was found on a tubular spinning wire book rack dressed in paperbacks in my junior high school library. The covers were faded and edges slightly tattered, worn by groping teen-age fingers trying to find the juicy tidbits before the bell rang. I remember one book titled “Sunshine” or maybe that was the name of the main character; either way it was a welcome discovery. She was a teenager and so was he and they made a baby. While reading the innocent outwardly descriptive words I could feel the warm rays reaching deep down to the base of my belly—the feeling like tiny stars dancing inside me. I instinctively knew my parents wouldn’t approve, which made the words taste that much better.
Original photo of the Biblioteca Pública de Pelotas in Brasil by Eugenio Hansen