The moment I knew for certain my mother loved me and understood me better than anyone, we were in a library.
As I've mentioned 1,000 times, I am a bookworm. I always have been a reader. I don't remember learning how to read. Family lore ties my love for books right to the womb; Mom swears she read constantly while pregnant with me. Reading was something that would soothe -- or at least drown out -- my colicky screams, so Mom would read endlessly to me from anything up to and including the phone book. Later, books really felt like worlds to me. I acted out scenes from the Little House books in our backyard, dreamed of marrying Gilbert Blythe and made up fantasy worlds to set my own stories in. My family teased me and called me weird. I was a bit.
My parents' house is 12 miles from town. That's 20 minutes from the library. Mom and Dad both worked, so weekends, when we had a million other errands to run, was the only time for library visits. We didn't get there every weekend. When we did visit, I literally would stock up on as many books as I could carry. While Mom searched for books, my sister and I would stop by the Victorian dollhouse, a fussy little thing behind glass that fascinated me. (Still does. On my last visit home, I found they had re-wallpapered half the rooms.) I'd watch the checkout and try to make sure I wouldn't have to hand my card and books over to the Mean Librarian. Sometimes, I'd time it wrong.
This woman wore her hair in a severe, '70s-style bouffant, everything slicked back from her face and then pouffed out dramatically over a polyester scarf. She tended to wear pastels, which brought out the large, pale pink wart on her face. It's been a long time, but this is how I remember it. Her eyes were piggy little squints behind big frames. She sat on a stool like a frog and looked down her nose at patrons. She smelled of powder and too much perfume. I never saw her smile.
On the visit in question, I was in grade school -- maybe 10, 11 or, at the most, 12. I had just started venturing occasionally into the adult stacks for novels. I timed my checkout wrong and had to bring my stack of books to the Mean Librarian. I must have had more than a dozen books. She frowned at me between the stacks I pushed onto her high counter and snapped my little gray card off one of the piles. And then she refused to check me out.
Too many books, she insisted. Too old, she said, pointing out a book from the adult stacks. Where's your mother?
I waved over Mom. I don't remember if I was crying. If I wasn't, I certainly wanted to. I never liked being scolded. I wanted every single one of those books. I needed those books to get me through to the next library visit. As it was, I probably still would have to reread one or two of them.
Mom listened to the Mean Librarian's concerns. And then she basically told her to go to hell. I can't recreate her speech word-for-word. Let's just say, I'm a champion ranter and I learned from the best. Mom told that woman I was a fast reader and would read every single book in the pile. HER DAUGHTER COULD GET AS MANY BOOKS AS SHE WANTED. She told that woman I was smart and could read any book in the library. SHE TRUSTED HER DAUGHTER TO READ ANYTHING AND TO TALK WITH HER ABOUT IT. Furthermore, HER DAUGHTER'S READING HABITS WERE NONE OF THAT WOMAN'S BUSINESS.
The Mean Librarian's frown deepened. But she checked out every single one of my books. I left with a stack so high I could barely see over it. I sat in the backseat one the way home listening to Mom fume about the Mean Librarian and flipping through my books, just basking in love.
That's the kind of mother I want to be.