I can still hear it and feel it – the quiet hum of the bookmobile while I was safely inside enjoying the air conditioning on a hot summer day. Air conditioning was a different world for me – it said, “take your time, relax, read, think.” I think I still have that conditioned reflex – turn on the air conditioner, and in no time I’ll start reading.
The bookmobile parked in the lot by the school I attended on Wednesday afternoons after school. Nothing could keep me from showing up, hoping that they stocked the shelves with some new books. I had read every history and biography on the shelves, but every once in a while they would throw in something new. I would take it down and sit on the wheel well, which had been made out to be a seat – not comfortable, but it was off the floor and no one would have to step over you to reach a book. Strange, but I don’t remember anyone else ever being in the bookmobile other than the traveling librarian. It was all mine.
Many years later it occurred to me that bookmobiles went to certain kinds of neighborhoods, the kind where kids are not considered so privileged. Of course, I thought the opposite as a child. The bookmobile meant that we were special. I mean, they drove the library to you. You must be unique, extraordinary, with special potential. And they even air conditioned itfor you, and the driver was like a chaffeur. Talk about personal service.
My mother-in-law sent me an article out of the hometown newspaper. It was about the neighborhood I grew up in, a place that has fallen on even harder times. It describes my neighborhood this way. “It was a destination for the working man, machinists, cafeteria workers looking for affordable one-story homes with one-car garages [we had no garage], all surrounding a school.”
Now it occurs to me that someone out there in Norfolk was thinking about the kids growing up in that neighborhood. They knew that there were some things that we were going to do without. So they sent us a bookmobile. They made one kid feel very, very rich. They gave him the gift of learning, of going beyond the small world of Coleman Place neighborhood. And they threw in an air conditioner, just to top it off.
Whoever you were, thank you.