Friday, May 1, 2009

Riding Around in a Bookmobile

The other Reader of this journal has asked for more stories about Lynda during the time we lived in Abilene, so while I am on a book 'theme' of late, I thought this would be a good time to recall what I can of my experiences riding around in a Bookmobile in Abilene with Lynda.

The Bookmobile was a large rectangular van, not unlike a modern day bread truck, with high sides and a rather narrow beam, with a single person-sized door in the back instead of the wide double doors of a delivery truck. Using a set of stairs lowered to meet a footstool placed on the ground, patrons would enter the Bookmobile from the back and pass down a single narrow aisle with bookshelves on either side from back to front.

The driver's area was visible from the 'stacks' but a low partition divided the two spaces so the only way out was also the way in. At most, three people could browse the stacks at a time. There was a passenger seat up front too, which is where Lynda sat while the Bookmobile ground it's gears around the west Texas plains in search of readers. There were no other seats. I sat on the floor in the aisle when the truck was rolling and the minute we were 'in port' so to speak, I got out to play.

Though hard-pressed to recall what year and for how many summers we did this, I know that moment must have been when I was still in elementary school. I had no particular interest in the books at that age. At the very least, books were already such a routine part of my life that the thought of reading more of them than absolutely necessary was definitely not what got me to riding along in the Bookmobile. Recall, dear Reader that I actually grew up in a bookstore. So, why did I hit the road with my Mom in a truck full of books?

Part of the reason I went along was simply my devotion to Lynda. I don't know how else to describe it. The Reader already knows that I am--or was--a Mama's boy. This journal was started in part to record and illuminate that very fact. I've already written about how I accompanied her on sales calls many years later, but my travels with Lynda really began here. Those travels really do go way back. From an early age, I developed a willingness--for want of another, better word--to accompany her to various places such as the store, the laundromat and the library. I went places with my Dad, too, just not as often. He took trips to the Bank, the service station and the hardware store.

Now, I can't say that I enjoyed the trips to the store all that much. Going to the laundromat was just flat out work and no fun at all. The library was another matter. This place I loved to go; and still do. And in the early sixties in Abilene, because the public library was one of the only public buildings--other than banks--that was air conditioned, it was literally the coolest place in town on a hot Texas summer day.

Another, less tangible but no less important reason that the library was also a 'cool' place to go was due to Lynda's friend, Len Radoff. Len was the Librarian at the Abilene Public Library during part of the time that we lived there. Although I do not recall all the details of how they met in that intellectual hothouse that was Abilene in the early sixties, I know that Lynda's dearest, closest (and dare I say oldest friends?) were Len and Lisel Radoff. They were--are--more like family than friends. Their daughter, Lesley have known each other now for something like forty-five years. She and I spent many days playing with sticks together in their back yard or ours; battling with 'swords' up and down the staircase of our house while our parents rattled on endlessly in the living room or kitchen about art, books, ballet, opera and politics.

I should point out that Len is like a favorite uncle, someone I always enjoyed being around. He is a very funny man, with a delightful wit and a love of play that no child can resist because he is always and forever will be a child at heart. He is also the most well read person--man, woman or child--that I've ever known, or even know of, including Lynda. Though Mom was a voracious reader, she had trouble sharing the information she gained from it with me, at least when I was very young. She could get exasperated with me, but Len had no such barrier. A more patient man in the world there is not. He treated me with such respect, intellectually, even at such a young age, that I can trace at least part of my love of learning, books and discovery to his gentle influence. Certainly he got me to read more books by persuasion than Lynda did by coercion during those summer-long book reading contests sponsored by the Library.

You know those contests, where the book list is updated weekly and a little tally is kept in the lobby so you can follow your progress and compare it to the other kids? It's likely a thing of the past now. It was meant to keep us off the street, and it certainly did that, though it was the air conditioning as much as anything that encouraged me personally to go regularly. For my part, I routinely read--was forced to read?--more than the ten or so books a week that comprised the minimum to compete and often ended up at or near the top of the list by the end of the summer. However, there was no prize that I can recall, so perhaps I never actually 'won' the damn thing. Who knows?

The trips in the Bookmobile were, for me, mostly about freedom. Freedom from the house and the absence of chores was a powerful incentive for me, I guess. I recall that each time the old van rattled to a stop in the parking lot of some new little town, I barreled from the back, looking, hoping to discover something new and exciting. Alas, there was precious little of that commodity in these dreary places. It doesn't take many visits to many small Texas towns to figure out that the great plains are not much on variation. At least there were plenty of horny toads and grasshoppers and ants no matter where we went. I managed to entertain myself in the dozens of ways that bored little boys do when left to their own devices out of doors.

Who knows, maybe I even read a book or two while riding around in the Bookmobile. I don't really remember. The Bookmobile adventure, if I can call it as much, certainly took a good bit of my attention during those long boring and very hot months of summer. It beat vacation Bible school, or so I'm told.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I'm smiling! les

d2 said...

You'd know better than me... Were there later trips in the Bookmobile, say in San Antonio or Austin? I remember riding around as well, but I don't remember where - and was probably too young in Abilene.

Great sense of this, though.