From the Stacks
By Carol Ann Robb, PPL Reference Librarian

“I had a mother who read me things / That wholesome life to a child’s heart brings / Stories that stir with an upward touch / Oh that every Mother were such!” (from “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan.)

As a child, my mother played librarian, organizing her books, placing homemade cards and due date notices in them, and checking them out to whoever she could find. I suspect her mother and dolls were her best patrons. But she knew early on that her life’s calling revolved around books, so it was no surprise that she received a bachelor’s degree in Library Science from Emporia State.

Her first job was at Topeka’s Mulvane Children’s Library. She loved working with the children and their parents and saw firsthand the inequality of “separate but equal,” something she never forgot and a topic that would reduce her to tears. As a librarian, she knew the importance of treating all patrons the same and seeing how society failed doing that to significant portions of the population made her determined to buck the trend. She didn’t discriminate against anyone due to their ethnicity or income.

Times being what they were in the 1950’s, she quit her job when she married my father, but her love for books continued and she made sure my sister and I became readers. Elaine and I were allowed to read whenever we wanted—except at the dinner table. No gift-giving event was complete without receiving at least one book. I still have my copy of “Now We Are Six” given to me on my 6th birthday.

When she returned to the work force it was as a school librarian. I joked that she should have been named “Typhoid Alberta” since every school she worked in – Washington, Eugene Field, and Lincoln – later closed. She enjoyed getting books into the hands of students and particularly loved reading to them. Every December she read from “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” delighting Ferne Small one year when she unconsciously substituted the name of a local family for the Herdmans. Apparently no one else caught her faux pas.

After taking part in the library’s 2002 Centennial Reading Program, my mother got into the habit of keeping track of the books she read. She didn’t just write down titles and authors; she included a rating system and annotations. She wasn’t a particularly picky reader and was game for just about anything as long as the story didn’t use flashbacks, dream sequences, multiple plot lines, or graphic language/scenes (though she wasn’t fond of mysteries!) She loved talking and sharing titles with various Pink Ladies she visited with on her cardiac rehab days, as well as her circle of friends.

Since baking was her other passion (anyone who attended a library program between 1992 and 2009 enjoyed the fruits of her culinary labors), she loved pouring over cookbooks. During the summer of 2009 she discovered Adriana Trigiani, devouring all of her books and declaring after each one, “Oh, that was her best one yet!”

The last book she read (actually re-read) was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” by Annie Shaffer, and was most disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it to the October Book Discussion. Fortunately, she had her own impromptu discussion with Judy Garner who delivered mail to her hospital room so she felt included.

After my father’s death, she made notes about various things she wanted in her funeral service and there was one passage from Fannie Flagg’s novel, “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven,” that she was adamant about including (those in attendance will attest that Kathy Owsley got those exact orders and followed them). She read that book more than once and I think it helped provide her with the peace she had that final day, knowing full well that she’d be met by loved ones awaiting her arrival.

The joke in the family was that while I looked like my mother, I thought like my father, but he would have been the first to admit that she was the driving force when it came to reading. I can’t imagine going through life without the company of books and don’t recall a time when I couldn’t read. And that is all due to one woman.

“You may have tangible wealth untold / Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold / Richer than I you can never be / I had a Mother who read to me.”

(adapted from “@ the Library” Morning Sun article, Dec. 24, 2009)