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Down on the farm

Down on the farm
Out of the woods.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A FONT OF KNOWLEDGE

At the age of 6 I began learning to use the Dewey Decimal System from the man who had been Head Librarian for the East St. Louis, Illinois Library System. 
I didn't understand or even consider why Grandpa, whose home was a beautiful 4 bedroom, oak 
paneled apartment in East St. Louis, IL, suddenly become a fixture in the spare bedroom in our house in Aurora, MO. One day Grandpa simply came to stay, bringing more books than clothing. 
Whatever he was reading he shared with me. His mormally dry crackly voice became rich and lustrous when reading aloud. It didn't matter that I was 6 and he was 60, we shared a loved of the story. Through the constant cigarette haze of his chain smoking, I absorbed carcinogens along with tales he read to me. Paragraphs and epics of regular people doing astounding things as well as odes, and epics of  heroes, kings, emperors, and of course, the United States of America. Did I understand everything he read to me? No, but as a natural teacher, he stretched my comprehension, my vocabulary, as well as my imagination to the max. 
He planned to write the definitive book on American presidents, and voraciously collected tales, sentences, mind pictures to include in his book. The research consumed him. The walk to the library was only 4 or 5 blocks, but that is not an easy distance for a man who'd lost his right leg to tuberculosis when he was 12. Usually, rather than come home for lunch, he simply read through the entire day, making copious notes. At first it was my job to walk to the library and bring him home for dinner. On Saturdays and holidays, he sometimes took me with him as his "research assistant". 
Smoking was allowed in the library then, but neither food nor drink could come through the doors. The librarians often slipped him a secret cup of coffee, but I survived on the water fountain and nothing else, as it is a well known fact that small hands spill. These hands were checked frequently by the librarians, and I was often sent to the restroom to wash them when they became  begrimed by the contact with old books. To this day I clean my hands before reading out of respect for these fonts of knowledge, (pun intended).  I do not crack the "spine" of a book, not even a paperback, nor do I "dog ear" pages.  I use proper book marks, or little rips of scrap paper, even occasionally a paperclip. 
It was more than 40 years before I learned that one day Grandpa had gone to the store for cigarettes, and simply disappeared. He was gone for months, leaving Grandma worried and heartsick. Eventually, she sold the grand apartment, and went to live in Montana with her sister. And that is story for another day.