Do you remember when you were a kid and people would ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Did you know? I never did. I really could never, ever imagine myself as anything, could never see myself doing anything. Eventually, I guess I realised I had to give them some sort of answer, so I think when I was around seven or eight, I started telling people I wanted to be a writer. I suppose I knew that I liked reading — I liked books anyway and I liked the library, so I chose writer as the answer. I just as easily could have chosen librarian, I realise now, but Miss Pruitt, the library at Lee Public Librarian, never seemed entirely satisfied with her life. I mean, she was positively lovely to me — and, later, to Eddie — but anytime I saw her when she didn’t know I was looking, I always thought she looked really incredibly sad. I know now that that’s likely because she was living a life as a public servant in a town that wouldn’t let her be who she was. I heard that years after I left Lee, she moved to Atlanta, came out, and settled down very happily with her girlfriend. Maybe if I had known her in Atlanta, or maybe if Lee had allowed her to be herself, I would have answered those folks that I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t thought Miss Pruitt was sad I might have become a librarian. Anyway, the answer I chose was not librarian, it was writer.
I didn’t become a writer either.
On that hot, hot day all those years ago, when LuLu had kicked me and Eddie out of the house and when we wound up behind the library, Miss Pruitt was there, welcoming as always.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Deep South in summertime, but it gets hot. Very, very, very hot.
And the library had air-conditioning. Not air-conditioning like you get now in restaurants and malls and airports, where you have to bring a sweater to save you from the chill. This was the 1970s. Air-con was a measured treat. But, a treat nonetheless.
Eddie was pretty bold when he declared we were headed in, but as he got closer to the big double doors, he wavered a bit. I don’t know if he had been in the public library before. I sort of assumed everyone went to the library, but now I realise not everyone did. I was happy to be there, though, so I grabbed the door and pushed him in.
It was dark compared to the sunlight outside and cool (blessed, blessed cool) and dusty and empty.
“Well, hello, you two. I thought I might be completely on my own today. What are you up to? Looking for books or just trying to escape the hot?”
“Ummmm? I’m not sure ‘ummmm’ is an activity. . . . You know, it’s okay if you wind up in the library in the process of trying to avoid heat-stroke. I really do not mind.” Miss Pruitt smiled at us both. It was a genuine smile too. Like she really didn’t mind if we were just ducking into her workspace just to avoid being somewhere else. “But, as long as you’re here, why don’t we find something for you to read.”
And, she set us up.
I loved that library. It was the 1970s, so the furniture was all shades of orange and brown and there was a ‘reading pit’ at the back with floor cushions and bean bags. They knocked it down a few years ago to build a new elementary school. I think I heard there’s a ‘travelling library’ service now — an app and a van.
Around four o’clock, Miss Pruitt suggested Eddie and I might need to head back home. She said she’d keep our books at her desk, though, and we could come back anytime.
We went back the next day and every day for the rest of the summer.
28 Apr 2016
Hey, Eddie! Let me know if you’d like me to send you a book, okay. — b