Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brooklyn Public Library


Now where did those words come from? I don't recall my parents saying them. Sometimes these words haunt me, especially at times when my spirit is low. It seems like these words splash across an invisible screen....and suddenly, I'm revived. I know songs have been written using these exact words, but they have been lodged in my memory since I was a young child. So, let me go back to my early childhood to search for the answer:

When I began school at the age of seven in first grade (and spoke only the Italian language), my teacher was fascinated by the speed I learned English, and it compelled her to devote more time to me than was advocated. She was not aware that my parents, now that I was also a student, insisted that my brothers speak only English when addressing me. By the time I was nine years old, I could read as well as my brother Alfred, who was two years older.

It was near the end of my two and one-half year stint in grade school in June 1919, with Summer vacation fast approaching, when Miss Frazier (our 3-A grade teacher) advised us to continue to read as much as possible, and she went on to extol the magnificence of an institution referred to as The Library. "Many, many different categories of books lined the shelves, and you could gather a tremendous amount of information....and best of all, it was all free". And my eyes must have bulged completely out of my head. I wanted to get home quickly to tell my Mother about The Library and was agonizing about how to convince her about the importance of belonging to one. On that day, I found my brothers playful mood with their friends (on the way home after school) rather frustating. See....up to that particular day and during school-hours, I was not allowed to walk home alone. You will have to understand....that I was not quite nine-years old....and just a little GIRL. As we approached Atlantic Avenue and St. James Place, my brothers' reflexes switched from their buddies to me. Each groped one of my hands as we crossed Atlantic Avenue...just in case Mom was watching from the store window.

After entering the Store, I quickly engaged my Mother in conversation about The Library...speaking in spurts of Italian and English, trying to make her understand what I was talking about. She finally quieted me down, and said: "Of course, of course you can start to-morrow". There was absolutely no challenge....and if there was any dissent from Papa, she would take care of that , too . At that moment, no one could ever tell me , that there was a greater Mother than mine; she was the smartest person on Earth. I marvel to this day, how (although illiterate) she could add a column of ten or fifteen figures and arrive at a correct total. Even she could not explain it; sometimes she would say "buono senso" (common sense) or say "cervello buono" (good brain).

I was very fortunate at the age of nine to have a Mother who trusted me to venture through five blocks of paved streets to the Brooklyn Public Library on Franklin Avenue. Other Italian mothers (usually store customers) began questioning my Mom's approval of this flagrant pursuit of Elvira (El-vee-rra); but my Mother would silence them by saying: "If she is old enough to assist me here in the Store, she certainly is old enough to get books from the library".

I began to assist Mother in her Grocery Store when I was about eight years old. It occupied the ground-floor of a town-house type building and had living quarters on the upper two floors. My Father made a stool, especially for me, so that I could reach the countertop. This same stool also became a sitting stool, placed behind the counter, where I could study and read. It was placed close to the store window so that the daylight could reach the face of my open book. I managed to read many, many books here in my sanctuary. During my pre-teen years, I am sure every Grimm and every Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales were read more than once. I loved the children's poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and I can still recite some of them to this day.

It was probably during these early days of my life that I first read of the words: Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall. To me, these particular words signify, that in our Lifetime we must experience 'despair' and 'happiness' to understand the difference between 'right and wrong' and 'good and evil'.

LIBRARIES.........Yes, I still continue to believe that they are magnificent institutions!

...............Elvira Oliver


  1. Elvira

    Another wonderful post.

    I worked in an academic library in a UK university for eleven years. It was quite a privilege to be surrounded, daily, with so much learning.

    I read all of your posts and I'm never disappointed.

  2. A lovely post! I also have fond memories of libraries and the books that I devoured when I was a child - and continue to do so.