I mentioned books first. They weren't more important than Mom and Dad and Molly and Tim and Shannon the dog and Polonius the cat. But books did enable me to escape the sometimes frantic pace of daily life. They also helped me understand some odd human behavior. My brother Tommy, for instance, liked to sit down to a bowl of sweet pickle relish for breakfast. While the rest of us munched on Cheerios, Tommy relished his relish. In the beginning, we gave him a hard time, as siblings do. But after awhile, we just had to accept this quirky behavior as you might if coming across something similar in a Dickens' novel.
Summer reading was especially important. We had chores to do and we played baseball and went swimming and spent as much time outdoors as humanly possible. But at some point during the day, I needed time with books. I don't remember official summer reading programs. But Mom took us to the library as often as we needed to recharge the book supply. In elementary school, I read my way through the Hardy Boys series and had a special fondness for dog books ("Lad a Dog," etc.). In junior high, sci-fi was king. I started with the classics -- Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, the Tom Swift series -- and then moved on to the harder stuff. Nothing like spending a lazy summer afternoon sprawled under a cottonwood tree while I traveled to exotic worlds with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury.
We moved a lot, so I got to know a libraries in a dozen different places. Just entering a library gave me a feeling of belonging in a strange new town. Whether it was Denver's big main library or the tiny one in Moses Lake, Washington, the books were all arranged in the same order and the card catalogs (remember those?) all looked the same. The librarians, too, all had that schoolmarmish look, or that's how this 11-year-old boy saw them, anyway.
I was in our local Cheyenne library on Tuesday evening. I selected two novels from the "new books" shelf, and then my laptop and I spent several hours on the third floor revising a short story. The third floor at the Laramie County Public Library is the quiet floor. Back in the day, every floor of a library was quiet (or else!). But libraries are a bit more freewheeling these days, more interactive, and a bit more hectic. So I was working on a story, the gentle tapping of my laptop keys the only sound. A storm blew in and I watched from the big window as lightning snaked across the sky. Below, a mom and her kids clasped their summer books and made a mad dash for the car. At closing time, I checked out my books and realized I hadn't signed up for the summer reading program. I sign up every year, buy a T-shirt, fill in the scorecard to earn ice cream cones and various discounts at local businesses. There wasn't time to do that on this library trip (the guy on the P.A. system was telling me to check out my books as the library was closing), but I knew I would return soon. I always come back to the library.
By the way, if you haven't yet signed up for "Dream Big," LCLS's summer reading celebration, you can by going here.