It was the way she made me feel. And her voice. Like Barbara Walters, but less annoying and pretentious. Mrs. Blum's soft hands were spotted with nickel-sized spots, her fingers like giraffes floating in mid-air. She decorated her library section with posters, Romona Quimby books, and safari stuffed animals. She was one of the reasons we took the hour-long bus ride to her library. Mrs. Blum and her giraffes.
The library where I grew up was small, had bars on the windows, and was closed more often than not. And there was a lack of Romona Quimby. I read through most the books in the children's section, so my mom had to do something. My father took our only car to work in the morning, so once a week, my mom packed grocery bags with books and we headed to the bus stop and hoped for seats next to open windows. My sister and I fought over who got to pull the Stop string as we approached our destination. We walked for 25 minutes to the library, always embraced by the sweet smell of pages and the chill of air-conditioning.
My sister and I would race up the wooden staircase, and slow to a walk when we discovered we were in the presence of greatness. When I passed Mrs. Blum's desk at the top of the flight, I'd touch the clay figurine someone made her. A lilypad.
Mrs. Blum warned my mom I wasn't allowed to check out more than 15 books at a time. I cried. My mother explained I was homeschooled and I'd likely finish the books before the week commenced. Mrs. Blum's giraffes patted my chubby arm and said she'd make an exception. That summer she made me and my sister her assistant librarians for the Summer Reading Program. She treated us to an ice-cream buffet in late August for all our hard work.
Between my mother's diligence and Mrs. Blum's support, I fell in love with reading...which later proved to be the very thing that moved me from away from libraries with barred windows. And a future filled with giraffe-sized opportunities.
Many thanks to Candace Prokopets for sending me this book. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington is truly remarkable...his grace, power, and dignity in light of racism in American was moving...and heart-breaking at the same time. I finished this book last week on my way home from Las Vegas and I cried in McCarran International Airport. Such a great read.