Secret Stash

Secret Stash

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Secret Stash

A daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend.
~Author Unknown

Our household looked like a North Wales Library annex. There was a stack of kid books for my five-year-old sister, Lori. My brother, David, age ten, enjoyed sports and adventure novels. At age fifteen, I devoured Dickens, Agatha Christie, and any young adult novel in reach. Medical novels captured my mother’s eye, and finally my father nabbed the latest Car and Driver magazines. It was an eclectic mix, and my mother kept our books in circulation. The old green Ford station wagon must have logged a million miles between our Oakland Place home and the library on Summit Street, especially during the summer when school was out.

“Mom, may we stop at the library on the way?”

It didn’t matter the location of “on the way.” It could have been to the YMCA, the grocery store, or to my friend Joan’s house. The answer was always, “Yes, but we better get a move on so we have enough time.” My mother, all five feet of her, moved quickly and efficiently. Her graying reddish hair, short and neatly combed, waved over her forehead and she was crisply dressed in slacks, a blouse and Keds sneakers. She rounded up shirts for the dry cleaners, a grocery list, her pile of books, and all of us from upstairs, downstairs, and the basement. Green eyes flashing, she brokered no nonsense and we dutifully piled into the car with minimal elbowing.

The North Wales Library was located in the basement of the ancient elementary school. We didn’t walk down steps to enter. Basically the school was built on a bit of a hillside and the library was tucked into the hill. So we walked to the side of the school and opened huge, heavy wooden doors. Slender dirty windows at the ceiling allowed in a hazy light, and being underground, the library was always cool, even on a steamy August day. As the doors thudded behind us, we strolled in quietly with only a squeak of our sneakers announcing our arrival.

Mrs. Schultz’s cloud of white hair and her smiling face emerged from behind the heavy oak library desk, a dark contrast to this tiny woman. I remember her as shorter than my mother and as the loudest librarian on Earth. Her cheer and hearty laugh distracted many a scholar.

“Mrs. Crowther,” she said to my mother. “I’m so glad you came by because I was going to call you. I have the latest Irwin Shaw.” She bustled to her desk and opened a huge drawer. That’s where she held the newest books aside for her favorite readers. At that time, there were no reserve lists or computerized requests. Popular books were distributed at Mrs. Schultz’s discretion. Like Christmas, you wanted to be on her Nice List.

We turned in our old books and disbursed to corners of the library while my mother thanked Mrs. Schultz and chatted. I helped Lori with her picture book selections and then wandered aimlessly, sliding out some titles to read the blurbs. “Joanne, I think I have something you’ll like,” boomed the librarian. I scurried up front and Mrs. Schultz pulled out The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. “Now, you have to share,” she said with a wink.

Looking at my mother, Mrs. Schultz continued, “It’s a tad racy in parts, but Joanne is one of my advanced readers. You’ll both enjoy the book.” I hugged it to my chest after she finished her card stamp process and handwritten log out.

“Thank you so much. I can’t wait to begin,” I said. She finished checkout for David and Lori and we all waved goodbye. Mom dropped me at my friend’s house and we agreed she’d pick me up at five. I hated to relinquish The Thorn Birds, but knew I’d begin reading it that night.

My afternoon was full of laughs, and then at home, dinner was the usual family chitchat over meatball sandwiches. After cleanup, I went to my room, checking the bed and my desk before hollering downstairs, “Hey Mom, where’s my library book?” I heard a muffled reply and bounded down the steps to find my mother sitting in her chair, with her feet up, reading The Thorn Birds. Her sheepish smile said it all. She’d come home, begun the book and now was hooked. Uh-oh.

This was the first of many reading battles—a friendly tug of war over Rich Man, Poor Man, Love Story, etc. She’d read during the day, neglecting a few chores. I’d read at night or on weekends. I knew when my mother was at an exceptional turning point in a book, because she’d stall me. “Joanne, how about if you help Lori with her leaf collection?” she’d suggest. Or, “Joanne, your turn to clear the table, please.” No point in protesting. Her back was turned and she was down the hall in a flash to get to a chapter.

Reading was certainly a joy she passed to all of us kids, not to mention the art of disappearing. The Thorn Birds set the standard for stealth. It also opened up a new dialogue between us, since I now could read some popular adult fiction. “So, have you read the part where Meggie does...?”

“No, don’t give it away,” I said and covered my ears. Later we could talk about Australia, the priest, and forbidden love. I think we both set a world record for reading that book, and were reluctant to see it end.

That Saturday morning, Mom appeared in my doorway and said the magic words. “We need to return your Thorn Birds. Want to go to the library and see what Mrs. Schultz has stashed for us this week?”

~Joanne Faries

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