I grew up in a small town in Ohio, twelve hundred people and shrinking, at least when I lived there. One stoplight, a grocery store, two gas stations, two drugstores – neither of which actually sold drugs by the time I came along. I’m assuming they did once. They had old fashioned soda fountains, though, which I thought infinitely more useful. The town was built around a sulphur spring which the Indians regarded as a sacred place of healing. When they were forced off their land, they tried to bury it under dirt and stuff, so white men wouldn’t find it. Of course they did, and at one point Green Springs had a big health spa where rich folks could come take sulphur baths. There was an academy where rich folk could send their sons. When I grew up, there were a few structures left from the academy, and the falling down remains of two spas. The springs were owned by the catholic church, who had a big rehabilitation hospital, and a pretty public park around the springs themselves, with swans swimming in the pond, roses tended by an old man who had been in a concentration camp in the war, and plenty of rarely visited nooks where lovers could tryst and drug deals could go down.

It was a town full of ghosts, asleep and dreaming of its illustrious past.

The public library was located in what used to be a church, a far prettier building than the modern one they built to replace it. Far more romantic, too. And, of course, it was full of books, a warmer, more welcoming place than any church (in my opinion!). I knew every corner of it. I spent far more time at the library than I should admit.

I was steeped in nostalgia from the time I could walk.

The library was independent at that time and had not much budget, and, therefore, a wonderful selection of odd books. They purchased new books cautiously and treasured their old ones. Occasionally there would be a spring clean when they tossed some of the less read. There used to be long lists of people who wanted to read bestsellers. The library only got one copy of each book and that one copy worked its way through the list until it got to you. A page attached to the back endpaper had the book’s whole history of who read it and when. I used to take favorite books out just so they could have lots of stamps in them, so the librarian would think the books were in constant demand and not throw them out. Two of my favorite books disappeared that way once, and even though I begged to be allowed to go through the boxes of discarded books reputedly stored up in the old church loft, she would never let me. For the life of me, looking back, I can’t understand why. I constantly reminded the librarian of those books. Why couldn’t she have taken a half an hour sometime and dug them out for me? When you are a kid, the rules and ways of grownups are unfathomable. When you’re an adult dealing with whiney children, you tend to tune them out. Faulty communication, I guess. I probably got on her nerves.

This was pre-internet, mind you. I found myself copies of those books, years later, the hard way, by going into stores and searching shelves. They were Jack, Jock and Funny, a dog story by Eleanor Youmans, and Red Fox, a nature (fiction) book by Charles G D Roberts, though I didn’t know that when I was looking. This was pre-internet, mind you. Jack, Jock and Funny was relatively easy to find, in that there were no other books with similar titles, but I can’t tell you how many people tried to sell me The Adventures of Reddy Fox by Thornton Burgess. I read it, and several others by Burgess, and knew it wasn’t my own special book from childhood (but Burgess is quite entertaining!). I nearly despaired of ever finding it, but we were in one of those big old used book stores in New York City (are any of them left?) and I was just scanning shelves, which I had to do since I didn’t know who the author was, and there it was. The cover looked different, cause the library always had those ugly rebinding jobs with that thick, weird feeling cover material, but when I opened it, I recognized the illustrations. I knew it was the right one. I can’t tell you how excited I was. It’s almost embarrassing.

Someday, will someone feel that way about my books? I hope so.

I’ve never met anyone else in the world who was impressed by either of those books, indeed, who had even read them. I am a fan club of one. Well, two on the Jack, Jock and Funny, as I managed to convert one of my daughters. I have no idea what makes one book a classic and another not. Why some books stay in print and charm generation after generation, and why others are forgotten. Or why I seem to be the one who passionately loves those forgotten ones (not EVERY forgotten book, mind). I truly love old books, the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. Not hard to figure out how I ended up owning a used bookshop, is it?

Jack, Jock and Funny, by the way, was about to brothers and their little sister who take in a stray dog after a train crash and bring him home to the dog boarding business they’ve started. (There is much more plot than this!) He becomes best friends with two of the other dogs. Heroics ensue. Also a happy ending.

Red Fox is about a fox, told from the fox’s point of view.

As an adult, I collected up all the Charles G D Roberts books I could find, and the Eleanor Youmans. I am faithful to my childhood friends.

The librarian must have been a fairly patient person, we became good friends. I used to sit up there at the library and talk to her about all sorts of things. As a grown up, trapped behind the desk at a used bookstore, feigning interest as customers went on and on about something, I guess I received my just rewards. Gee, I hope I wasn’t so much of a pain to her as those customers were to me (well, most of them, some I really liked). Oh dear. So much for childhood memories.

In later years, my library was swallowed up by another, larger one. There was a wholesale throwing out of the old, which were replaced by multiple copies of slick new books, librarians with actual library degrees, and lots of new rules. I’m sure it made a lot of people happy. I was gone by then, I never really gave it a chance. They got rid of the big wooden shelves, and replaced them with metal. I suppose the big old globe that lighted up is gone, too, and the naugahyde covered chairs with brass studs.

I used to walk through sections and run my fingers across the spines of the books. I used to pull them out at random and start reading just to see what they were like. I developed a passion for Robert Service at that library.

There was a section of romance books published by Avalon – for some reason I was raised to think myself above such books. I find them now and then at flea markets and such, and while not great literature, they seem pretty harmless (yes! I defied my upbringing and read a few!). And the books they kept behind the desk, reserved for an adult audience (though I’m betting they were still pretty tame). I wondered and wondered what they might be.

I suppose some kid there right now might be taking out a Raven Cycle book, say, lingering at the desk and telling the librarian about some kid at school she thinks is cute. The librarian patient, sympathetic, able to remember when she was young. This still happens, right? Not everything can have changed, or at least I hope not.