Saturday, June 10, 2017

In Search of Summers Past, I

    I'm going back more than 50 years. Memories of those summers make me melancholy. My only companion --who dogged me mercilessly-- was the sun. Beating down on my head, blinding my eyes, drowning me in humidity. I naturally took refuge indoors.

    The bookmobile visited our neighborhood every week and parked just down the street. A van the length of a bus, it contained more books than I had ever seen in one place. The bookmobile also ferried about a duplicate of the library's card catalog. (Never seen a card catalog? Wikipedia to the rescue!) I could discover other books in the township library's collection, complete an order form, and the bookmobile would deliver it to me the following week. What a sense of power! In a few weeks I had consumed all the titles appropriate for my reading age that were housed in the vehicle, and I was hungry to browse in situ all those tantalizing titles listed in the catalog.

    When I was twelve or thirteen, Mom let me take the bus that stopped on our corner. It stopped at the larger branch library housed in the municipal building. During the summer months I'd visit the library almost every week, lug home all the books my arms could hold, and finish reading them in two or three days.

     My two best friends both had grandparents with homes at the New Jersey shore. They left the day after school closed and didn't return until a couple of weeks before the new school year. Bringing along a friend was out of the question, as both families were already densely populated. Later on I heard about kids who went away to summer camp, but the parents on our block didn't seem to know about that, and even if they did, who had that sort of money?  So, that's how books became my true companions.

    By the time I was in high school, I was allowed to take the bus to the terminal and from there, the El (elevated train line) to center city. From Suburban Station it was but a short walk to Mecca, a.k.a., the Free Library of Philadelphia. Along the way I strolled through Logan Circle, brushing by Alexander Calder's fountain to catch its cool, moist breeze. Eventually I learned that the architectural design of the circle and the buildings facing it, the Free Library and the Courthouse, had been modeled after the Place de la Concorde in Paris. OK, but to me the Free Library was the Taj Mahal.  

Logan Circle and its facing buildings. To the left, the Free Library. To the right, the Courthouse.