Bringing Backup by
25
(38 Stories)

Prompted By Children's Books

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My brother (l) Mom and me. Easter, 1963. I am six. The closest picture I have to the events in this story.

This is more about books and reading and being a weird little kid than about any single book.

I was a nerd. A geek. A prototypical Poindexter (a nickname I was actually saddled with for a time). Books didn’t beat me up the way other kids did, so I loved them with all my heart and soul. I vaguely remember kiddie classics like “Dick and Jane” and “Curious George.” I recall reading “The Little Engine That Could” by flashlight up in my bunk bed. I think Tuggy the Tugboat put in an appearance as well. A bit later, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift were buds; I spent a summer devouring the Swift books alone in a sweltering backyard tent that I had dubbed “The Lab.” But when I discovered the large collection of old science fiction anthologies (Asimov! Wyndham! Bradbury!) that hid in the back of the storefront branch library around the block….

After that it was third star to the left and straight on ’till morning!

But there was a problem. I was in third or fourth grade, and these were “adult” books. The librarian refused to let me check them out. She referred me instead to the children’s and YP (“young people’s”) sections. Most of these I had already read, or seen and rejected. But she was unmoved. I was supposed to be content with bland pablum suitable for easily upset post-toddlers when there were alien invasions to foil, post-apocalyptic wastelands to survive and galactic empires to conquer or save?

I left the library crying tears of anger, humiliation and frustration. Not unfamiliar emotions to me even then, but always unpleasant.

I don’t remember telling her, but Mom often asked me about what I was reading. She called me “Isaac” because of my love of Isaac Asimov. So I must have broken my personal code of silence and vented my frustration at being deprived of my chosen reads. All she said was “I’ll go and talk to her.” A few days later, she told me that it was all straightened out and that I could borrow any books that I wished.

I have never known what my Mom said to that librarian. Knowing Mom, it was said slowly, softly, with a slight smile and and laced with profanity. Mom was good at quiet intimidation. If that failed, it was undoubtedly repeated, but at a much greater volume.

I was a regular in the branch, and never had to be scolded or shushed (hell, I was in church!) so the librarian often chatted with me. But when I next approached the desk with my handful of forbidden books, she said nothing. Not a word. She inked her date stamp and checked me out in dead silence. I borrowed books from that branch until I went to high school and the Main library became convenient, but that librarian never spoke to me again.

A funny coda; years later, living at home on a summer break from college, I found myself in that library again. I went to the back, where my beloved science fiction anthologies had lived. They were there still. For some reason I took one down and checked the pocket in the back where the card that the librarian stamped was kept. I checked them all.

The last person to have read any of those books was me.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre

A lot of things have happened in my life, but now I am mainly in it for Gina and the mountain biking.


Tags: books, library, kids, nerd
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Bravo Dave, and good for your understanding mom!

    I think the librarian who at first denied you was an exception, at least I hope so!
    Most librarians would be sensitive to a kid like you who’s outgrown the children’s section and is ready to move on.

    And reading all your past Retro stories I’m not surprised you’re a lifetime reader!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m so glad you confided in your mother and she used her powers of persuasion with the librarian, even if the woman never spoke to you again. At least you had access to your beloved sci-fi until you were old enough to check them out without the forbidden look. Truly upsetting that you weren’t encouraged by this supposed friend. And rightous that later, when you checked, you were the last person to have checked the book out.

  3. Marian says:

    This is a terrific story, Dave, as I was the equivalent of a girl Poindexter (not sure what name that would be). And it’s awesome that you were able to return to the library and close the loop with those books. As I hinted in another of my stories, I had a similar experience with our local library as a fourth grader. My mother, who was very old fashioned in many ways, was totally “liberal” about books and reading and didn’t impose any restrictions. When the librarian prevented me from going into the “adult” section, my mother wrote a note giving me permission, and I didn’t have any problems after that. I think the first book I checked out was Gone with the Wind.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      I love that we had parallel forbidden literary fruit experiences as a kid, Marian! And at pretty much the same age.

      • Khati Hendry says:

        I am dismayed that you were forbidden to read sci-fi by the librarian! Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury were great. Everyone needs the chance to let their imagination soar and explore. So glad your mom opened the way—go mom! Smart kids often don’t fit in until they get away from the rigidity of El-Hi school, and their gifts can find a home. Meanwhile, books can be a godsend.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    You are so lucky you had such an understanding mother who opened a world of wonderful books for you. Perhaps no one checked these out after you because readers at the age they may have been interested were locked out. What a ridiculous policy.

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Loved this story, Dave. It brought back many memories of my local library. My parents never gave me any flak over my reading choices, even though a few of them were so far over my head I missed many of the nuances. I am tempted to go back and read some of those YA books I read before I was truly a YA!

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Dave, and as others have said, hurray for your mother. I agree with Laurie that probably nobody else checked out those books because the librarians kept kids from reading them at the age when they would have been interested, and they didn’t have mothers who intervened.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Good for you and your amazing mom, Dave! A great story. And, like Suzy, I bet the reason no one else had checked out the stories was because of narrow minded librarians not having to deal with an equally broad minded mother (or father). And, of course, Asimov was a genius — who also, not surprisingly, railed against the perils of ignorance.

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