I am participating in this month’s WordPress #WordPrompt: Bridge
At age eight, I felt lucky to have my street dead end directly in front of the the local library. It was still two very long blocks away, but I would fly there on my Hollywood-model Schwinn and park it in the front bicycle rack that was always bent on the left side. That must have occurred in some unfortunate car-meets-bike-stand encounter since the library sat on Lee Road, a commercial corridor lined with local businesses. I had to cross carefully as there was no traffic light to guide me.
Once safe on the other side, however, it was like I had crossed a bridge, away from problems and troubling patterns ingrained in my home and right into a timeless pool of memorable characters and fantastical possibilities.
I would run up the steps, slipping through the rotating glass door, past the Circulation Desk where a woman wearing cat-eyed glasses and a smile said “hello.” Turning left, I would walk into a large room with bookshelves as tall as Abe Lincoln and run to the “Just Returned” shelf or the Mystery section.
At age 8 and 9, I was enamored with a certain crazy, pig-tailed, strong-willed girl named Pippi and a young male detective named Encyclopedia Brown. But I was open to stories in the New Books area like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I thought living in a museum and collecting coins from a fountain for money was the cleverest adventure of all time; until I burrowed into the alphabetized “R” section in Fiction and discovered Swallows and Amazons by Author Ransome. That story may be the greatest treasure I ever found in that library.
Once I made my selections, I would take out my yellow library card and return to the kind librarian with the cat-eyed glasses and check them out. Then it was back over my imaginary bridge, books under my arm, stories ready to take me to a thousand far-away places.
My preferential spot for reading those books was in my backyard; my second sanctuary. There was no treehouse, but there was a tree, and I climbed that tree, book in hand, scooting into place on the second-lowest main limb. There was a place I could stash a cookie or a drink. Finally ready, I would lean back on the trunk of that tree, it always supported me, and from there, I would go on to survive a shipwreck with The Swiss Family Robinson or learn more about being a girl with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Eventually, I grew up, attended college and permanently moved away from my childhood town. By then, I understood things about alcohol and addiction and all the self-hatred that ripples out from that; something I was unable to understand as a child.
Long after our house was sold, I returned a handful of times and always drove down my street. I was surprised during one of my last visits to see an actual bridge over Lee Road. It had been built just south of my imaginary one. It was a skyway bridge, the kind that connects between two buildings.
It’s beautiful and modern and serves as a gateway for new generations of readers. I feel loyalty towards the old one though. It offered safe passage from a confusing world to an enchanted one. It took me anywhere I needed to be.
This is a still image from a GIF titled Vintage Read held by the US National Archives. I’m including it because the girl just happens to look exactly like me with the bangs and hair color. The image details match my 60’s era library visits too. I guess I like to think she could be me.