Thursday, December 8, 2011

40 years ago...

Christmas was fast approaching.  I'd been employed at the downtown Library for only a few months, and my finances were still running amuck on the wrong side of the street.  It was one of those years when I made Christmas cards for family gifts, then scrounged for the postage.  My roommate, an old friend from SoCal, had gone home for the holidays.  He offered me a ride, but I didn't have any vacation time and couldn't leave work.   

My first Sonoma County rental.

The folks I worked with had a few days off, and vamoosed the caboose.  My job for the holiday was to 'hold down the fort' in the book processing department.  The department was in the basement.  It was basically a large work table and several old chairs, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelving.  The shelves bulged with hundreds of both broken and brand-new books.  We handled books from all over the county system.  A side cupboard was filled with plastic sheeting for covers, and manila pockets for front pages.  The table was littered with glue pots, brushes, rulers, scissors, paper cutters and rubber stamps.  That Christmas a half-dead 4" poinsettia reigned supreme in the middle of the chaos.  Off to the side, a small typing table carried our precious IBM Selectric and a stack of blank catalogue cards.  A manual Underwood was on another table, to be used as a "back-up" when the Selectric broke.  Several book carts lurked nearby, waiting to be either emptied or filled, excited about the prospect of a trip upstairs, or perhaps a real adventure on the county truck. 

Libraries are considered quiet places, but I never found that to be true.  Libraries are filled with the noise of people and books.  Paper rustling, books thumping, covers sliding and complaining on conveyor belts, books of all sizes skittering into tall tenuous stacks, then slamming back out....   Books are not quiet.   Even though many librarians prefer the company of a good book to a roomful of people, library staff members can be a noisy bunch.  The radio in the breakroom was usually on, and staff members were always chatting and it seemed to me.  No worries about getting in trouble for being too loud at Christmas, though.  Most of my new work buddies were gone for the holiday. 

It was my first Christmas on my own, away from any family, and I was looking forward to it...or so I thought.  My dear old roommates in Oakland were spending the holidays with their families, and expected me to do the same.  I didn't make any announcement about my total lack of plans because I didn't want to get scooped into their family scenes, described the previous year as "incredibly awful."  I decided to just forge ahead and celebrate on my own - "My First Christmas As A Grown-Up!"   (Having just turned 21...)  Besides, I wasn't alone.  Sammy was with me.

SAMMY - Christmas Day in Oakland...before we moved North
As Christmas Day approached, I had to fight off a big Loneliness Bug.  The department was way too quiet.  I tried singing loud Christmas carols, but my scratchy little voice was soaked up by the basement walls.  I danced around with a big picture book about Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer, but that didn't work either.  A few tears followed.  That evening I decided to spend five precious dollars of food money on a tiny cut tree, and make a paper-chain for decorations. 

The next morning one of the librarians sought me out.  She came into the book processing area (a rare trip for a glorified librarian), and invited me to join their family for Christmas dinner.  "Just my husband, our two daughters and their husbands and kids, plus a few of the cousins...."  "Thank you so much, but no, no.  I'm good, thanks."   "Are you sure?"  "Yes, yes, I'm sure...."  I felt terribly shy about barging in on someone's family time, and my shyness was magnified by the fact that I barely knew the lady's name, much less anything about her. 

She came back downstairs after lunch.  She had two small boxes in her hand, and a big smile on her face.  "Well, you have to take these then.  I don't need these crummy old things any more.  I have a lot of decorations.  These are too old.  Please, just take them." 

The most beautiful little ornaments ever.  I was charmed.  The lady - I soon realized - was one of the kindest people in the world.  She gave me a hug, too, even though I wasn't into hugging, in those days. 

Sammy and I enjoyed a mac-and-cheese dinner on Christmas Eve, and I gave him a nice bone.  We hung as many ornaments on the tree as we could.  I treated myself to a glass of whiskey.  I'd had some beer in Oakland (blech) but this was my first very-own half-pint of "serious alcohol" - a gift from my roommate.  I thought it tasted awful.   But that didn't keep me from bringing it along when Sammy and I drove out to the beach on Christmas Day. 

It was a gorgeous day on the coast - bright, clear, and COLD.  Sam and I spent the entire afternoon at the beach - we were the only ones there.  I had water and whiskey, crackers and cheese.  We made a huge peace sign out of footprints in the sand.  I sang a few Christmas carols and Sammy (understandably) howled.  I'd been worried about the Lonely Bug, but it was no where to be found.  The coast was far too beautiful, the sea shells far too plentiful, and my precious dog was most excellent company.   My thoughts often drifted to the kindness of the old librarian.

Today, after forty years of acquiring all kinds of marvelous Christmas ornaments, the little heart she gave me is still my favorite.  I even gave it a name.          



Basit said...

Very impressive! Those are super Adorable.

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Elf said...

Awesome! Great story, well told.

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