The librarian vs. the schoolkids

I miss Miss Bruscheud, the librarian. As a child I saw her as a stern woman with gray hair and icy eyes. For 40 years she ruled our local Andrew Carnegie library. It was the tallest structure in our town, and its dome, gray granite walls, and entire contents were, to her, worthy of worship.

In junior high, we students didn't have much reverence for anything. To us, the library was just a place to congregate. We'd hurry up the steps, click the thumb-latch doorknob, and pull open its eight-foot-tall doors.

We'd move as a pack to the tables in front of the magazine racks. Supposedly, we were there to study, but our real intent was to talk, tease, and aggravate one another. The challenge was to do it under Miss Bruscheud's eagle eye, without making her leave her curving, black-walnut desk.

The thing was, she was on to us. Miss Bruscheud knew we'd be coming Tuesday evenings, about 6 o'clock. She knew we'd wiggle and whisper and giggle. After all, our parents had wiggled and whispered and giggled there years before.

We'd snicker, and she'd put her finger to her lips. We'd poke someone under the table, and she'd slowly shake her head, her mouth a tightwire of disapproval. We worried little about those reprimands, though, because Miss Bruscheud was telegraphing her displeasure from across the room.

What we didn't want, at all costs, was to incur Miss Bruscheud's double-arched eyebrows. If we turned a page in a magazine with too much snap, orshoved it at a friend, or replaced it askew on the magazine rack, up went the eyebrows. A second later, she would march over to our table and bend over us. In a whisper that could crack glass, she'd tell us the library's magazines were not just for us, that they belonged to everyone in the community, and that we must handle them carefully so others could enjoy them after we were finished.

Her outrage at our behavior stuck to us like the little drops that sometimes sprayed accidentally out of her mouth.

I fondly remember how Miss Bruscheud checked out our books with great ceremony, never saying a word. Not a single "You'll like this," or "I read that one, too."

Face to face with Miss Bruscheud, we didn't dare talk, either. She already knew our names. After all, she had read us stories back when we sat on little wooden chairs during Saturday's story hour.

She'd find our library cards in the index box that held her entire record system. She'd meticulously write the book title on a card with the ice-pick-sharp point of a yellow No. 2 pencil. Then she'd ink the tiny stamp that was attached to the pencil with a thousand turns of a rubber band. She'd press the due date on both our card and the book's check-out page, initialing both. Finally, she'd close the book's front cover, pick it up with both hands, and slowly present it to us, like an offering.

We would gather the books close to our chests, back away from the desk, and escape out the door into the twilight.

Her silent expectations followed us. We would not return any book with a cracked spine. We would not dog-ear one page. We would bring all books back on time - or we would answer to her.

I miss Miss Bruscheud. I wish she was still there, standing guard under that magnificent domed roof. I'd go back to the library and thank her for keeping me in line until I could realize that books were more than something to open for a school report, and words were more than something to scrawl across notebook paper.

I would step quietly away from the curving desk and scan the library shelves until I found the children's books and stories that I have since written. Then I would ask her to revere them, too.

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