January 12, 2009

George and Martha, Rise and Shine.

When I was three and four, I lived in Adak, Alaska, which is a very small Aleutian island. It's near the end of the chain of Aleutian islands. I remember one day I didn't have school because the sun didn't come up. My mom and dad worked two jobs each. My mom would bring me home ice cream from Baskin Robbins and hamburgers from McDonald's. I remember going with my dad to my school at night, sitting up on the stage in the school auditorium while he swept the floor with a broom that looked like it came right out of Mary Poppins. The school was scary during the day, but at night, when I would be there with just my mom and dad, I ran through the hallways as if I owned the place. But there was one place I couldn't explore at night that I really wanted to-- the library.

I remember the first time my teacher took my preschool class to the library; I was really excited because I had never been to a library before. Or at least, I don't remember any library until that one. The library, as I remember it nearly 17 years later, was enormous and white, but not sterile-- it was a sort of glowing white, with rows and rows of short, dark wooden shelves stretching as far as my three year old eyes could see. And that smell. Oh, that smell... so wonderful. Woody, dusty, and something else I can't put my finger on.

We stayed for a half hour, and we were allowed to walk around on our own, but respect the books. And even better, we were allowed to check one book out.

I don't remember how I picked George and Martha, Rise and Shine. Maybe it was because the book, which had a hard, vinyl cover, was bright yellow. Maybe I had picked it because there was an illustration of a hippo in a bed on the cover-- silly! I don't know. But I remember it as the first book I had ever checked out from the library. I also remember it was the first book I had read all the way through, with lots of help from my mom. I remember stumbling over the word "uncomfortable," and my mom making me repeat it after her over and over. I remember re-reading the book for the umpteenth time at the dinner table, with a bowl of milk and filling-depleted oreo cookies by my side, laughing when George made a secret club that Martha couldn't join, making Martha upset, causing George to reveal to Martha that his secret club was a Martha Fan Club... and of course, you can't join your own fan club! Silly!

At some point, I realized that library books were meant to be returned back to the library. And that library books were supposed to be respected.

I had read that book in the bathtub too many times to count. I had gotten oreo filling on it quite frequently, and sometimes a little milk had gotten on the page, too. And at some point, I decided I didn't like the color of Martha's bow and had colored it some other color with a crayon.

I got scared. I hid the book under the couch. But because of that, I was too scared to go back to the library after that.

I still have the book. It's somewhere in a box in California. Hopefully I'll see it again this summer. And when I do, I'll save it on a shelf, not under the couch.

I'm feeling really contradictory right now, in the sense I feel really young and old at the same time. 17 years has gone by since I first checked out a library book. Since I first pronounced the word "uncomfortable" properly, and understood what it meant. I've checked out many library books since then, and have been in so many uncomfortable situations since, but none are as memorable as that book from that first library or peering underneath the couch to make sure my quarry was well-hidden.