Librarians have a lot to answer for. It’s because of them I embarked on a life of crime.
Growing up in a tiny, rural South Texas farming community, I yearned for adventure, an escape from dull predictability–the dirt roads, lack of air conditioning at school, the stench of crop dusters spraying the fields, and bugs the size of Buicks. I won’t even discuss the snakes. Of course, there were many great things about this small-town life. However, my budding rebellion against predictability fueled my love of mysteries and thrillers–I was driven to discover what was behind the locked door, on the other side of the garden gate, and inside the sealed envelope.
Being the middle child of nine, I grew up in a strict household. The alternative would have been abject chaos. While a sophomore in high school, I committed some now-forgotten, small infraction of the house rules. The punishment: my library card was taken away for a week. This was equivalent of the death penalty for me, and I was determined to survive. I began to wonder what would have happened had I instead misplaced my library card. Although it’s not something I’d have ever been so careless with, I was sure it must have happened at some time to someone.
The formulation of my plan began, and I headed for the library. I couldn’t outright lie and say I’d lost it. Lying in our home truly was a capital offense. Praying that the nervous sweat forming on my forehead would be mistaken as a byproduct of the stifling heat outside, I approached the librarian. Offering the most innocent expression I could muster, I made my bid. Was it possible to check out a book if I didn’t have my card with me?
“Of course, Carolyn. Bring whatever books you want to the desk and I’ll sign you out.” Being a regular had proven a benefit. I selected enough books to last me the week, which I’d stash in my locker. I wasn’t about to try this ploy a second time and risk arousing the librarian’s suspicions.
Looking back, I’m sure my parents knew what I did, or at least suspected, and likely had a good laugh. Librarians are, of course, nobody’s fool. But I suspect her pleasure in fostering a teen’s love of books and reading probably induced her to be a willing accomplice if she’d known the truth.
For all my high school activities and accomplishments, I’m proudest of the fact that when I graduated, my name was on the check-out card in every mystery or suspense novel in our library–especially those read during my week of crime.
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About the photo by Duke Morse: While coordinating a fashion photo shoot at an old country mansion a few years ago, we discovered an incredible old library on one of the upper floors. It was a wonderful room, with deeply carved ceilings and beautiful panels. And books. So many old, forgotten books.