It's not that libraries are important to my family, but we moved to the town I grew up in solely because of its library status. When Dad took a new job, my parents had a choice of relocating to Willows, a small rice-ranching community in California's Sacramento Valley, or to Orland, a small rice-ranching community in California's Sacramento Valley. Willows boasted twice as many (which is to say, two) libraries as its town twin, so the Millers settled in Willows.
We hadn't quite finished unpacking when Mom snatched up a recently emptied cardboard box and said, "Let's go pick out our library, kids, shall we?"
We cruised by both buildings. "Hmm," we all said, the car hesitating outside the City Library, which was compact and brown-bricked and ordinary. At the next stop on the Miller library tour, the County Library dazzled us with its massive and pristine white concrete pillars.
"Ooooh," I gasped. "It looks like the White House or something!"
"Which one shall we go to?" Mom asked us, smiling as if she already knew the answer. And we, for once in perfect agreement, chorused "The White Library!" As she parked the car, Mom mentioned, yet again, how wonderful it was to have a choice and how fortunate we were to have moved to a town with two libraries. Her remarks were aimed at those of us who had put up a fuss over leaving our old (one-library) town.
"We're the Millers," Mom told the woman behind the desk, who seemed unusually startled at our presence. "And I can't tell you how thrilled we are to be in this wonderful library! We just moved to Willows. In actual fact," Mom gave a little laugh, "we had our choice between moving to Orland or here. And we chose Willows just because it has two libraries! Oh, you'll be seeing a lot of us. Now, where shall we put our box so it's out of the way?"
THE librarian looked us over for so long that I wondered if we were quite up to standard. I stared at my family members, too, trying to figure out what the problem could be. But we were just so ordinary: my tall, beautiful mother and three skinny, brown-haired kids wearing our usual costume of jeans, T-shirts, and tennies. I shrugged and watched the lady open her mouth, close it, purse it. "Well," she said. At last she smiled. "Well! Welcome, Millers!"
She helped us heap our box that day and every Saturday morning afterward. Since there were no other patrons, ever, she seemed to have plenty of time to assist us. I never failed to feel hushed awe within our new library - so enormous and empty, echoing only the sound of Miller footsteps.
"Mom," my sister asked one day, on our way home with our laden book box. "How come we don't get library cards here? Why does the librarian just write 'Miller' on a piece of paper for each book?"
Mom shrugged. "I guess that's just the way they do it in Willows. Every town's different. "
A newfound friend took me to the City Library, known in our family as the Brown Library. "Aren't you going to pick out a book?" she asked, clutching her own Nancy Drew.
"Oh no," I said. "We go to the other library."
She frowned at me. "This is the only one you can check books out of, y'know."
I just shrugged. Obviously, she was mistaken. Just because she'd lived in Willows her whole life, that didn't mean she knew everything about the town.
We hauled three years' worth of Saturday book boxes in and out of the White Library before Mom idly asked the librarian a question. "Just out of curiosity," she said gently, not wanting to hurt this sweet woman's feelings, "why is it that we're always your only customers?"
"Well," the woman said, "You know this is the county library, right?" "Uh-huh. Right."
"The truth is...." She lowered her already soft voice. "Well, we're only supposed to be distributing books to other libraries. We normally don't loan to individuals. Ever."
You could've heard a page turn. Finally, Mom said, "But we've been getting books here for years!"
The woman smiled. "You Millers were so enthusiastic, I just didn't have the heart to turn you away."
On the way out to the car, Mom said, "After we turn these books in, guys, we're going to get cards at the Brown Library. Just think - a whole new bunch of books to discover!"
It was quiet in the car heading home that day. Very quiet. In my memory's eye, I picture us all staring straight ahead, in our old Ford, while a collective thought bubble hovers over our heads. It reads: "And to think we moved here because of the two libraries!"
But, of course, it didn't matter if there were two libraries, one, or none whatsoever. Because by then Willows was home.