OP-ED: First Loves. First Libraries.

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
The way I see it, First Love can be broken down into two categories:

Romantic love.  


“Other” can include everything from restoring classic cars to brewing bathtub gin to collecting thimbles.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you about my first romantic love (if forced to do so, I would lie), but happily invite you to join me aboard the Good Ship Reminiscence for the “other” category.   

Ahem (clearing my throat)…

The object of my first non-romantic love was a library.  Many things have changed over the years, but the town where I grew up is still intact and in situ in my imagination.  The hub of the town was my family, because when we are young, we are always at the center of the universe.  The radii from my hub reached out in all directions from our house to everywhere I could ride on my bicycle.  

This included my friend Laurel’s house, Central School, the Glencoe Beach, the Glencoe Movie Theater, and the crown jewel of my commute – the Glencoe Public Library – smack dab in the middle of town.  

I would park my bicycle behind the library; pass the fountain to get to the front of the building; walk through the Colonial front door; and enter into a world of things that I liked very much.  

To the left of the foyer was a room as snug as a 19th Century British men’s club (where Sherlock Holmes could read The Strand Magazine when he wasn’t investigating crimes).  It had Oriental carpets, oil paintings on paneled walls, wide windows overlooking leafy lawns, Queen Anne chairs, and end tables with shaded lamps.  

In the center of the foyer was the checkout counter.  Past that was a small room with long, narrow library desks; beyond the desks were French doors leading to the terrace where I had parked my bicycle; to the left of checkout was a door to the children’s room, and to the right were row upon row of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.  

Almost hidden by those shelves was a utilitarian staircase to the basement.   

It was down there, sitting on the cold cement floor beside a jumble of battered World War II era periodicals, that I discovered what I loved most in the Glencoe Public Library:  Back issues of LIFE Magazine.  Each was a magic carpet that transported me into the past.  Each page gave me fashions, hairstyles, movie reviews, movie stars, war heroes, cityscapes and war stories that related, not only the news of the day, but also the feel of an era.  Most fun, however, were the often ludicrous but always entertaining advertisements:

BEER AD:  Little boy in shorts, pigtailed sister, and small dog leaning against a picket fence.  All three staring up the street toward and on-coming bus.  HEADLINE:  “Their hero arrives on the next bus.”  BODY COPY:  “Advice to Wives ~ One of home’s greatest charms for Daddy is the icebox…well stocked with Budweiser.”

SOAP AD:  Four black and white photographs of Dorothy Lamour arranged artfully on the page.  In each photo, a small towel drapes her naked body.  HEADLINE: “Dainty Girls Win Out.”  Dialogue bubble:  “A Lux Toilet Soap beauty bath is the best way I know to insure daintiness.”

Daintiness?   Good grief!

COFFEE AD:  Sepia illustration of a stylishly dressed young woman slung over the lap of a man in a chair.  His arm is raised to spank her.  Her arms and legs are flailing in protest.  HEADLINE:  “IF YOUR HUSBAND EVER FINDS OUT” in bold capital letters, followed by, “you’re not store-testing for fresher coffee.”

Yes.  The ads in Life Magazine were stupid.  But the history lessons were great.  

Alone in that basement, I absorbed so many wonderful nuances of the past.  And I had so much fun.  I have  fond memories of W. C. Fields extolling the virtues of drinking whiskey with his breakfast cereal.  I remember articles about the Dionne Quintuplets in Canada; pictures taken by brave Life Magazine photographers of Americans liberating Nazi concentration camps and Hungarians resisting Soviet tanks; unforgettable images of Gandhi in a diaper beside a spinning wheel; an Appalachian farm family clustered around a Ben Franklin stove; and an exhilarated sailor kissing a nurse in Time Square at the end of war.  I remember the soft feel of old magazine paper, the cold smell of a cellar, and the warm smell of logs burning in the fireplace of the library’s reading room.  

Most of all, though, I remember that unlike my first romantic love (about which I will always lie) my “other” first love was built, beautified, staffed, and stacked with an eye to giving me everything I would ever want or need from the printed page.

Libraries…particularly that library.  

Ah…the joys of first love!

Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben.  Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY -  evesun.com  

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  www.shellyreuben.com.  Link to David M. Kinchen's reviews of her novels "The Skirt Man" and "Tabula Rasa":  http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html

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