In appreciation of the library

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 17, 2014

In this modern day, many organizations exist for the explicit purpose of providing group recreation to America’s idle youth. This is done in an effort to keep them from going down the “wrong path.” In fact, in their “statements of purpose,” these organizations automatically assume that if a child’s time is not involved in community recreation, then he will be lured to make a journey down some “wayward path most traveled,” a route much worse nowadays than that one decided against decades ago by Robert Frost.
At the risk of sounding like “The Cranky Old man,” I’ll throw caution to the wind and say: Back in the “summers of my youth,” when some of my time was unfilled, instead of feeling lured into evil (although I’m well aware that each person’s situation is different), I felt “lured” to East Fisher Street, particularly to the Rowan Public Library. Some of my unorganized summertime was also benefitted by that library’s outreach of the bookmobile, slowly making its way up our driveway, a path consisting not of crushed pebbles of gravely gray, but of naturally-outcropping chunks of white quartz (the library evidently felt that I was worth the trip, despite the wear and tear on their tires).
During the other nine months of the year, when most of my time was organized by the Public Education Law of the State of North Carolina, I enjoyed the library of Granite Quarry School.
Regarding the Rowan Public Library: near its entrance, the smell of its boxwoods went up my nose to be forever filed away (just like a book) in the same section of my brain devoted to memories of that library. The office of Dr. Frank B. Marsh (our family doctor) was also surrounded by boxwoods, so the smell of his shrubbery is forever, similarly filed away with memories of him.
The old well outside the library, covered for safety’s sake, had long ceased to provide water, but within the adjacent building, a thirsting mind could be quenched while the body rested in a comfy chair. Many of the chairs were wooden, but there were a few “puffy” vinyl ones too.
When I was in high school, I stopped by the Rowan Public Library and took a look in their audio section. In addition to modern (modern back then) 33 1/3 long-playing vinyl records, there were a few, older “albums” of 78s. These albums opened up just like a book to reveal the sleeved records within. As I remember, Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” took several 78 disks for completion (or rather, to record the completeness of what the composer left uncompleted). Wagner’s “Die Walkure” was much weightier, not just in musical depth, but for the fact that the physical weight of its album of 78s put it somewhere in the neighborhood of Amtrak carry-on luggage.
The library of Granite Quarry School had large windows which were raised in early fall, then lowered until late spring. Large ceiling fans also helped on those almost summer days toward school’s end. I remember looking up from my book, viewing those tall vertical “picture windows” filled from bottom to top with blue sky and white, puffy clouds. Since I was little (short, still) and seated, I looked at an angle from below which precluded any view of ground level, so all I could see were blue and white, which by the way, are Granite Quarry School’s official colors, and the colors of its dragon mascot, even to this very day (the school’s modern-day dragon is much less scary than the one with which I grew up, kind of like Barney being much cuter than his forever-hungry “forebears”).
It is the librarian’s job and duty set the tone for that “knowledge cafe” where the patrons either “dine in,” or “take out” with a stamped “due date” of return upon the “plate” from which they have feasted (a plate still magically full for the next person who dines from it).
I have been in some libraries recently where it seems the urge to talk is under much less control than the urge to sneeze. In such a place, certain people often squelch their sneezes to the point that it sounds as if an implosion is taking place within their skull, possibly resulting in internal damage. Would that they were so with their spoken words while in the library! I have even heard a “ruckus” generated by some librarians and their cohorts, making me want to want to borrow that word (sound) which is iconically theirs, and turn it upon them, namely: “SHSSSH!”
Ending on that note, the librarian who is first in my memory set the definitive tone of reverence for the rite of knowledge’s noiseless absorption. That man was Mr. Horace Rhyne, our librarian at Granite Quarry School. He was a naturally quiet man, as befits one in charge of a quiet place, causing me to wonder now if such a possibly genetic disposition to quietness makes for the best of librarians.
Even when encountered in Granite Quarry School’s hallways, he didn’t seem to have much to say. In those days of the popularity of the TV show “The Untouchables,” he reminded me a little of the late actor Robert Stack, who portrayed Elliot Ness, but I never heard Mr. Rhyne say “Rico, bring the guns,” or “Rico, bring the books” (a lot of the 1920s mobsters had more than just one set of “books,” and probably still do).
While we were there with Mr. Rhyne, that haven of silence under his jurisdiction could neither be intruded upon by the world outside nor disturbed by us, from within.