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If There Ever Were a Palace; a Tribute to Miss Gifford – Ann Metlay

Ann MetlayIf there ever were a palace, and a queen to reign within it, it was Miss Gifford at the Northbrae Library in Berkeley, California. I walked into her court with awe. On all sides of her throne were festoons of books. To her right sat the picture books. I never tired of Bartholomew Cubbins, nor the sights on Mulberry Street. I chuckled every time I opened Blueberries for Sal to see the baby bear eating from Mother’s bucket. I loved the logic in A Hole is to Dig, the witty responses in What Do You Say, Dear?

Miss Gifford placed the chapter books to the left of her throne. The first time my father helped me to leaf through the pages of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Miss Gifford approached and spoke in a dramatic way, “Why Ann, you must be ready for a library card.!” I practiced over and over, carefully fitting my name within the little square asking for a signature. That accomplished, I found it difficult to select only five books a week to take home. There were the books about Freddy the Pig, the wonderful doughnuts in Homer Price, and my favorites, Betsy, Tacy and Tibb. Miss Gifford believed it did not matter I only came once a week, and devoured my books before the week ended. “Just read them a second time,” Miss Gifford instructed in her rather imperial tone.

My favorite books, the non-fiction ones, resided under the window. I checked out the bird books over and over. The bright red cardinals and the golden-yellow finches pictured between their covers seemed more wondrous than any fiction book I’ve ever read. Once I asked Miss Gifford when I might be able to see an indigo bunting. “Aaah, Ann,” Miss Gifford intoned, “Those birds all live east of the Mississippi River. They can’t fly all the way to Berkeley.”

I also treasured the geography books. They sat with rigid drab-colored spines and few black and white illustrations. I had no need for pictures. The author’s descriptions of the Grand Canyon, the autumn trees across the Blue Ridge Mountains, gave them all the color, the textures worthy of any jewel in this palace. When Miss Gifford read some of these books aloud to me, she imbued them in a cloak of mystery beyond their physical presence.

Miss Gifford cloaked herself in dress as drab and modest as the books over which she ruled: Long dark-colored dirndl skirts and hand-knit monochrome sweaters, wire-rimmed glasses, mousy brown hair. It was her eyes which served as precious jewels befitting the queen she was. Little wrinkles creased their edges. I remember, with love, how they sparkled as she spoke of her beloved subjects, her books.

She came for special visits to our elementary school. On those occasions, she held court in a corner of the classroom. It seemed to me sunbeams found their way to her seat in our otherwise drab classroom.

Many will speak of their favorite teacher. I had Miss Cooke, my kindergarten teacher who cast my entire class in a gay nineties revue, and let me be a beautiful doll to my boyfriend’s dapper top-hatted gentleman as the class sang “Let me wrap my arms around you, I can hardly live without you.” Mrs. Nelson, my 11th grade biology teacher and sponsor of the Parapsychology Research club, picked me up at my home on meeting days so we could have a record player as a part of our research projects.

How lucky I was to receive the gift of a favorite librarian. Miss Gifford shaped my life and my love of reading in a way no teacher ever did. She treated me as if I were one of her treasured subjects. She always knew I could read. Sometimes she pointed out a word in one of her books to me, explained its derivations, its roots. And I could always read.

As a child I told everyone I wanted to grow up and become a librarian just like Miss Gifford. I believe it was her influence which led me along a tangled path which included becoming a reading specialist.

Ann Metlay was born and raised in Berkeley, spent 40 years teaching special education and reading, and moved to Cottonwood 5 years ago. Ann is involved in many forms of creativity, including teaching workshops for the Camp Verde Community Library, and is watched over by two mini dachshunds. She is the author of a book of short stories, It Happened in the Cottonwood Library Parking Lot.

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The Poet and Me – Diane Johnson

Diane JohnsonWho is Wesley McNair? I now knew that the distinguished, bespectacled man with the closely clipped white goatee staring from the newspaper page was the Poet Laureate of Maine, and I had already decided I disliked him.

Each year, the “Let’s Talk Books” group at the New Vineyard Library sponsors a local author’s night. This was to be its fifth year. To date we had a local lawyer who writes crime novels; a young man from the university who had written his first young adult fantasy novel; our tired local game warden who has written numerous books based on his adventures as game warden; and a Maine Guide who writes informational books on outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. But this year the Poet Laureate of Maine was coming to this rural town of 750 residents. It is a real honor and would require a little more work to ensure success.

None of this would have come to fruition if a local resident wasn’t friends with his wife and made the initial contact. Not to worry she assured me it’s free. I went ahead and contacted Mr. McNair to set a time and date for his presentation. The state requires me to charge a fee he tells me. Will that be a problem? Oh, no, I tell him (what happened to free I thought) we have funds set aside for such things. What is the fee? Two hundred and fifty dollars he replies. Really? With a more than slight shudder I tell him it’s no problem, but I’m silently thinking I may be paying for this one myself.

Well, the fee issue was eventually worked out thanks to pressure from an influential couple in town, but the publicity issue was something else all together. A write up in the paper, posters saturating the area, and a blog on all the event calendars. This had to be done right. As luck would have it, however, Wesley himself came to our rescue. He provided all the publicity as he wished it to be worded. Well, that saved a lot of work. Maybe I’ll change my opinion after all. Wrong. Well before the event I raced to a local printer and had professional posters made, at no small cost to the library. Then several of us ran around the area making sure all the posters were up in plenty of time. The article went to the paper and we were pleased with the results.

Email number one arrives. Mr. McNair has decided to change his focus and attached is the revised publicity. Are you kidding me? I call my co-chair. I am not going around and confiscating all those posters and going to the expense of making more. Not to worry she says. I’ll make up a word burst with the new information and we’ll glue them to the original posters. Great! We spend an afternoon making up the word bursts, cutting them out, and running around gluing them on to the originals. I contact the newspaper and get a reprint to run. No harm, no foul, just a little extra foot work. Email number two arrives.

Mr. McNair has decided to revamp his presentation to cover more of his journey as a poet. Are you kidding me? Tell him we’re canceling I scream into the phone. My co-chair, a little calmer than myself, says not to worry. She’s used to working with divas. We’ll put up new posters but they’ll be from my computer on 8 x 11 paper. Period. And she did. I’ll be forever grateful for her calm, cool, demeanor. My excitable self was ready to throw Mr. McNair to the curb. I was not looking forward to greeting him. But greet him I did.

A tall, distinguished man, he filled a room. He greeted me, and anyone he spoke with, warmly and humbly. I was questioning my own judgment call. And then he spoke. How can a man speak so softly yet so powerfully. I was mesmerized. I hung on every word. I was a fan.

Afterwards he couldn’t have been more complimentary of the refreshments, the attendance (we actually got 45 residents to show up), and the attention given to detail. He even followed up with a thank you note. I now have decided I misjudged a very talented man who can be a diva if he wants, he’s earned it!!

Diane Johnson is a retired academic advisor and basic skills instructor. She volunteers at her local library where she also hosts a book discussion and a writing for fun group. She has published in several magazines and had a regular column in a local paper for over ten years. Presently she resides in New Vineyard, Maine and Lake Montezuma, Arizona with her husband, cocker spaniel and two Maine coon cats.

Gads Hill Library, Chicago; Falling in Love withReading – Deborah Murphy

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Deborah Murphy imageAs a young girl growing up in the city of Chicago, I remember going to our local library with my mom. Gads Hill Library was about a half mile or so from our house, which usually meant about a 20 minute walk to get there. Of course, when you’re eight years old it seems a lot longer. I loved the children’s area where there was a small table with some chairs so you could grab a book, sit down and look through to see if it was check-out worthy—usually it was.

Back in those days only two weeks was the time for you to have your book to read but I always took out at least eight to ten books. It wasn’t unusual for me to read a book a day and have read them all before we even needed to get them back to the library. Mom was an avid reader and I am really happy that she offered the opportunity for exploration into the realms of the written word.

Then I really liked mysteries, and also gravitated to books set in England. I’m convinced now, after a visit there, that it was where I lived in some of my past lives. And, for reasons that have now been revealed to me, I really loved horses and was extremely excited when I found a novel that centered around them. No one in my family had any background in horses but I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t fascinated by them. And, when I found a book set in England, that was a mystery and included a horse in the story I knew I’d hit the jackpot!

As I got older I began discovering other things the library offered—movies, CDs, a variety of workshops and seminars, places to meet that were quiet, and all the newspapers, magazines, and periodicals–oh my! Now, you can even get more information at the library as most of them now have computers which offers even more opportunities for people to learn about the world around us.

My local library now is in Cottonwood and I just checked online and discovered my old library is now called Gads Hill Center and it’s been in existence since 1898! Wow, who knew that I was going to one of the oldest libraries in the City of Chicago. Now, it makes me even happier to know that this place of learning and education provided knowledge in the distant past, is providing in the present time and will also provide in the future! Go on, you know you want to visit one!

Deborah Murphy has made the Verde Valley her home since 2014. Deborah has a Reiki practice and offers to facilitate tours to Peru. Her upcoming book is entitled Evolving with Adaptability: Who’s Driving the Car, a short guidebook on the road from ego to soul focusing on behavior modification.