• 27°

Al Batt: Everything was hush-hush in the library

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt

“Lord please keep one hand on Allen’s shoulder and the other hand over his mouth.”

That was my father’s occasional prayer on my behalf.

Because I hadn’t said a single word the first year of my life, Mom said I was too quiet. Dad thought otherwise.

When my parents needed to transact business in the county seat, they took me to the public library. It was a beautiful old building opened in 1903, thanks to a grant from Andrew Carnegie, a capitalist who was exceptionally good at being a capitalist.

The library building was a vocal structure. Floors, doors, chairs and tables groaned, moaned, creaked and squeaked. It was a place for humans to keep quiet. You couldn’t wear a loud tie there.

My parents dropped me off at the library and left the scene quickly. I booked it up the steps into the library clutching a Big Chief tablet and a couple of freshly sharpened No. 2 yellow, wooden lead pencils. The Big Chief was a notebook with a faded red cover featuring a Native American in full headdress and paper made from newsprint with widely spaced lines. I ran to the encyclopedias, early versions of Wikipedia, to look up things I needed/wanted to know. I read bits of books, newspapers and magazines. I used a dictionary that seemed better at its job than our aged wordbook at home. Words to live by were found in it even though it had no Wi-Fi capabilities. Free information and fascination. I’m a reader. Dinosaurs hadn’t been readers, and I knew what happened to them.

I jotted things down. I was a chronic note taker then as I am now. I take notes because I’m human. Humans are good at forgetting things. I’d put pencil to paper about such things as: Why is a creek called a “crick”? Why didn’t “spreading like wildflowers” catch on as a leisurely variant of “spreading like wildfire“? Was I like Pavlov’s dog because I became peckish each time Paul Harvey came on the radio or was it because Paul was on at noon? Why is water wet?

I have taught a writing class to college kids. I told them to journal. If they found that too much of a hassle, they should at least write ideas down.

One of this amazingly perceptive bunch of young people said with a smile, ”We don’t need to write things down, Mr. Batt. We’re not ancient like you. Our brains work and we’re able to remember things.”

I asked the class if any of them had managed to get 100 percent correct on every test they’d ever taken.

They were as honest as they were smart. None of them had accomplished that feat.

I said, “See, you can’t remember everything. Write things down.”

Rushing through the door of that great den of information, I was greeted by a zealous “Sssssshhhhhhhhhh!,” from a librarian. She was diligent in her duty to protect the library’s tranquil environment.

I hadn’t had a chance to make a sound other than with my squeaky shoes that I was perpetually breaking in. I’d been found guilty without a trial.   

LOL was done without a cellphone in those days. When I read the funny pages in the newspapers, I’d try to stifle any laughter. I wasn’t always successful, which labeled me as a troublemaker.

Friends deserted a laugher in a library as a way of saying, ”Remember, if anything goes wrong, we’ll be right behind you, going the other way.”

I needed to remain steadfast in my resolve not to whistle. Some folks whistled while they worked. I was more likely to whistle while I wasn’t working. A classmate, who believed there was no point in singing if you could whistle, absentmindedly whistled in class and was scolded by our teacher. He’d have gotten away with the whistling if he hadn’t applauded after he’d finished.

The librarian, I think her name was Paige Turner, told me to use my library voice. That meant being silent. I watched a man eat a candy bar and its wrapper. It’d have made too much noise to unwrap it.

After I’d busily expanded my mind for an hour, the librarian shushed me once more because she knew I was capable of making sounds. Then she gave me the look that said, ”Don’t make me shush you again.”

If a crime had ever been committed in that library, no witnesses would have talked.

I was quiet in the library. I didn’t want to be classified and catalogued.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.