I told my friend that I’d wait for her at the gate. We were on our way to a Saturday matinee and my friend wanted to return a book to the Clarksburg Public Library before we walked the short distance down the block to the Robinson Grand Theater to see “That Darn Cat!”
“Come with me,” she said. “We can find something to read for our next book report.”
“I already have a book,” I answered. “I checked it out of the school library.”
“I don’t want to wait until Monday to go to the library. Come on.” She headed up the walk to the front door of Waldomore, the mansion that housed the library.
My friend strode up the few steps to the wide front porch and tugged on the wide door that opened into a large, high-ceilinged room with a fireplace in the back. I stood in the entryway near the French doors which were open to the main room. A wide doorway framed a room on the left which was filled with shelves of dark-jacketed, thick books.
A similar room on the right held shelves of magazines displayed with their covers facing the room. Some comfortable looking chairs rested near bookshelves which held smaller books.
I glanced back to the main room and saw my friend signaling me to follow her. I walked slowly behind her up the stairs to the second floor. A woman with her grey hair pulled back in a bun sat at a small desk near the center of the room. Several children and parents stood in a line in front of the desk watching the woman check their books out.
Before the woman handed each book to the waiting child, she gave a stern reminder to take good care of the book because it belonged to the citizens of Clarksburg.
I wasn’t a citizen of Clarksburg. I lived in Reynoldsville, a small community on a narrow stretch of road west of the city. We didn’t have a library. I hadn’t even seen a card catalog until I entered the seventh grade at Gore Junior High a few months earlier. My friend lived in Adamston so she was a citizen of Clarksburg. I didn’t belong.
Six years later, I saw the view on West Pike Street from a different angle. My first paying job was working as a library page for ten hours a week. I earned $1.00 per hour, less than minimum wage at the time but I belonged. Not only could I borrow books from the library, I helped the children who came upstairs find something to read. I shelved books and explored the other rooms on the second floor. The West Virginia Room was my favorite.
One Friday evening, I watched from the upstairs window as snow fell steadily, quickly covering the long front walk. I put on my maxi-coat, (by now it was 1970) my hat, and gloves. I went down the steps and out the front door. I picked up the snow shovel resting beside the front door and began to clear a path to the library gate on West Pike Street.
Elaine Griffith Westfall
July 21, 2011
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