By the time a woman reaches middle age, she has racked up a recollection of firsts: first bra, first kiss, first love, first lover; roller coaster rides at the time of occasion, rocking chair delights for nostalgic reminiscences. Library card heads my list of memorable firsts, connected to the challenge of writing my name for the first time. Just as Siamese twins are indisputably joined together, the act of those two accomplishments was seamless: my mother told me that as soon as I could write my full name, I would be eligible for my very own library card. As the daughter of a young widow with few resources, books freed me from my impoverished world; their words sang in my head like songs that played on our radio. Undoubtedly, this legacy was passed to me from my mother, whose few possessions included her library card.
In New York City there were many family outings that required no money expenditure. In our borough of Brooklyn, there was Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the Grand Army Plaza Library—grand, indeed—all located near the arch and traffic circle that replicated Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. But, for my mother, struggling to provide even the most rudimentary bits and pieces of necessities, the sixty cents needed for our bus fares to these magical venues was a strain on her pocket book. However, within walking distance in our own neighborhood—in every neighborhood—was a branch of the public library. And so, my mother had something she could give to me.
On the very first Saturday I wrote my name without error, my mother and I walked the four blocks, hand-in-hand, to the library. It was a reverential atmosphere, much like a church or synagogue, where people spoke in hushed tones. There I met a friend for the making—a librarian. As the years danced on, I hopscotched from one library to the next, knowing that at each would be another friend-in-waiting. No longer bound by bus fare, I was introduced to books that transported me to neighborhoods without tenements, hosted infinite variations of people and posed considerable ideas and questions.
The potential for loneliness as a latchkey kid—a working TV was nonexistent most of the time; burnt out tubes were too expensive for frequent replacement—loomed as large as the bullies who waited after school. But there was a safe haven from both at the library, where my world and mind were expanded and formed and reworked again and again and again. Waiting for me in every future neighborhood would be a library—like the legendary welcome lady in far away suburbia, offering baskets of treats with promises of informed associations and shared good times.
I poured over encyclopedias that doled out all sorts of knowledge and instruction, sitting at a large library table together with others who also couldn’t afford the set from the door-to-door salesman. With the help of countless libraries and librarians, I attained the grades to gain acceptance at Brooklyn College, tuition-free—my only option for a college education.
A knowing librarian guided me to books on language and travel, instilling in me a persistent case of wanderlust: pack a bag…my favorite refrain to this day. Within the books’ covers, sirens seduced, luring me to reach beyond the pages and experience life first-hand: I’ve traveled through many foreign countries, their people improving upon and continuing my education. I’ve learned the joy in writing, searching to strike a chord with others, leading them to wondrous places like so many authors have always done for me. I married a man who shares my love for reading; together we’ve built our own home library.
Locked away in a cloth-covered box filled with treasured memories are some of my firsts: a miniature golf scorecard from my first date, my very first passport. Then, there’s my first library card—a 2-1/2” x 3-1/2” brown rectangle, number 98264J, issued by the Brooklyn Public Library, expired on December 31, 1957. Also among my treasures is my mother’s last library card—expiration date of December 31, 1963, just two months before she died.