I can remember vividly growing up in north Florida and looking forward to summer more than about anything. Partly because of no school, partly because of lake swimming, eating watermelon, and playing until the sun went down, but also a good bit of my childhood memories include my local library where I would spend many hours walking up and down its aisles, perusing its selections, and checking out books that I had no possibility of ever finishing.
Our local library used to offer a children's literacy program that would grant each patron an entry into a giveaway for every 20 books he/she read that summer. I would proudly fill out my sheet, barely able to scrape the 20 books together, and place it in the basket for the raffle, hoping beyond all hope to win the prizes that were so elegantly displayed in the children's section. Unfortunately, I never won.
I also remember spending a lot of time at my father's paint and flooring store during the summer, playing cards, games, and spending time with my dad. When there were no customers in the store, we would take wallpaper rolls and use them as bats and play an in-the-store version of baseball using a wad of paper towels wrapped together by duct tape.
Oftentimes, my brother and I would walk next door to the video rental store and offer up fifty cents in exchange for playing any video game (that had not already been checked out) for twenty minutes. This was the creme de la creme for summer fun. I even recall a video game tournament that we entered with several other children from the town. I won and I make sure to remind my brother of that every year or so.
We even competed in a summer recreational softball league and would walk the quarter mile to the field two days a week to play. My brother was quite good and I was just above average but to us these games were on par with the world series. This league would come to a dramatic conclusion around August when everyone's last game was at night. Trophies would be awarded and the summer victors would be heralded. My dad would coach some years and I can recall being on the Marlins with my brother as a teammate and my dad as the coach. I will always cherish my memories of him donning his teal Marlins shirt and instructing us from the dugout. During college, I would later go back to coach as well. The Indians, despite finishing just above .500, were a team not to be messed with.
But as fun as the softball, wallpaper baseball and video games were, my mind and my memories are still locked away in that library, sitting at the study desks with my stack of books, no cell phones, tablets, or computers to distract, opening up each musty book and beginning to read. My mom would oftentimes drop us off and we would walk back in the blistering hot summer Florida sun to my dad's store, books in hand, smiles plastered on our faces, knowing that each title we had selected was going to change our young lives.
And in fact I can recall several books that I checked out that mean the world to me. I picked up "Beyond the Magic Sphere" by Gail Jarrow thinking it had something to do with dragons, wizards, and magic (it doesn't) and remember being drawn in to this beautiful story about summertime and the games children play. I also remember the librarian recommending "Run With the Horsemen" by Ferrol Sams, a book that would go on to be cherished and even reread by the adult me. Visit after visit, these trips to the library never lost their luster.
And as summer slowly faded into autumn, which in Florida means the temperature drops maybe a degree or two, and the days got shorter, the stores littered with back to school supplies, and my personal favorite, the School Reading Lists, I would walk into said library, list in hand, searching for what I knew would be my next favorite book. Instead of the summer decor of suns, palm trees, and flamingos, the walls would be decorated with leaves, jack-o-lanterns, and of course, books.
The library has since moved in that town with its old building now occupied by the local fire department and I've since moved away having a new local library of my own. I have often wished to walk back in that old beige, dusty building and hope the old library smell still lingers and perhaps stumble upon a younger version of me still walking those aisles.
I've grown up, gotten married and had a child, but I still get that same boyhood excitement when I walk into a library, especially in the summer, when I walk up and down the aisles, peruse the selections, grab my son's hand as he waddles into the children's section, and hope he knows that each title he grabs has the ability to change his young life forever.