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The Smarts Store

As a kid, my favorite place on the planet was the library in my small Southern Indiana town. I especially liked to visit in the summertime when I could browse with no deadline other than closing time. Miss Batman, the kindly Librarian, was always helpful and encouraging.  I never heard her say “Shhhh”, even though she DID speak in hushed tones which caused the rest of us to do the same. I loved the smell of the place:  furniture polish mixed with old wood and a touch of newsprint. 


It sounded wonderful, too.  There were the creaky floors--not spooky but comforting in a “we’ve-been-here-a-long-time” kind of way.  The date stamp made a thump as it marked the due date on that card carefully placed in the book’s little pocket at the back.  That same card let me know who had read the book earlier, perfect for a nosy kid like me.     

I admired the look of the building, too.  The sign out front said it was built in the Collegiate Gothic style in 1917-1918, and was designed by a local architect, who ironically, is a distant relative of people I knew back in Arlington, Virginia. When the library was dedicated in 1919, it housed 13,518 books, with 4,207 registered borrowers—this in a town of 17,000 people! 

In 1952, the library held its first Summer Reading program.  According to the local newspaper, 251 kids participated, and reading three books bought admission to a magic show, with ice cream and cookies.  

Miss Batman acted as the magician’s assistant. (Too bad the black and white newspaper photo doesn’t show her beautiful, naturally red hair.)

The paper even included a group picture, with me at age seven, on the front row, seventh from the left, beaming and holding some sort of sign. I was in my element.  

When inside, I would go straight to the Children’s Section, where I eventually checked out every book Lois Lenski ever wrote--“little books for little people,” according to Miss Batman.  I also followed the adventures of Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, the Swedish triplets, as they baked a birthday cake for their mother or wore their dotted dresses.     

In a later program, I was named Queen of the Library, since I had read more books than any kid in town, even the King.  (But this WAS the ‘50’s after all.)  A photo showed us sporting crowns and red ribbons across our chests. I was the bespectacled one on the left--must have been all that reading . . . I have never been able to find that photo from the paper, but at one point I DID have the red ribbon. That, too, seems to have gone missing in one of our moves.

 I still carry a photo of the library in my phone, an Old School refuge with no “shushing.”     


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