NORMAN — Maybe it’s because of the heat. Maybe it’s because time seems to take a little slower approach during the summer. But for whatever reason, I always find myself reminiscing during the hottest months of the year.
July is usually about the time that I start to look back at family vacations of yesteryear. I start to think of summer barbecues that have come and gone. I always seem to think of that summer outdoor concert I went to with my brother. It was the first adult thing we ever did together.
Although I got the worst sunburn of my life, we managed to not fight in the car on the way to the venue. I never was on his side of the car and he never pushed me into a trash can or a light pole. It was a good day, and I think our parents would have been proud.
As I was sitting on my patio last weekend reading a book, it hit me that another fond summer memory was going to the library. Now, we went to the library during the other three seasons, too, but something about going in the summer was so much more exciting.
Summers around a small town usually were pretty quiet. We didn’t have a lot going on except the occasional mail call that included that month’s issue of Highlights magazine. So when mom loaded us up for a trip to the library, we usually didn’t have to be asked twice.
The public library in my hometown was modest. In days past, it housed the town’s post office. As a child, I thought it was the biggest building in town because it had not one, but two levels. The place had a smell that wasn’t offensive but very distinctive. I can only describe it as a combination of old books and knowledge.
I remember the library was the only place that my mom would let me wonder off by myself. Malls and TG&Y — the grocery store only if my older, more wiser brother were along — were off limits for unsupervised children. So, of course that elevated the library’s cool status.
Now, as an adult, I could argue that by the middle of summer, my mother was so ready for some peace and quiet that she’d constantly take us to the library because she knew we wouldn’t fight there. I’ve not asked her for sure if that was the case, but we usually were on our best behavior in the confines of those four walls.
The children’s department of my hometown library was upstairs. Being an old building, the elevator was off limits to the outside world. Apparently, only librarians were allowed to risk their lives to get to the second floor. The stairs were a little risky, too, but I knew as soon as I got to the top, I’d be ushered into a world of never-ending bliss.
For some reason, I’d always migrate to the same set of books — Shel Silverstein. I remember reading “Where the Sidewalk Ends” for the first time thinking that this was the most amazing piece of literature there is in the world. I checked the book out so many times that eventually my mother had to politely tell me that it was time to let another child have a turn reading it. I knew she was right, but it still was hard to part with such a literary genius as Silverstein.
As the years went by, I outgrew that upstairs retreat and, thankfully, I expanded my reading palate. I’m sure children’s library departments have grown leaps and bounds by now, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that converted post office that still sits on the corner of Fifth Avenue and A Street. I’m almost certain that library has one of the most worn Shel Silverstein collections in the world.