I was peeking through the bookshelf when I saw him. The library was quiet, and although there were so many books to read, I decided to write instead. I sat on the floor by the mouse house, and once I began, it was hard to stop. When I finished, I stood up just enough where I could slip my note on which I had written through the cracks between the books.
It was easy to find the mouse house where I wrote. I followed the trail of cheerios and goldfish fallen from snack containers long since gone that led me to the downtown Nashville library in the children’s section on the second floor to the corner where I watched my children play, as I sat by the mouse house painted on a wall. We used to go the library often on Saturdays to see the marionette shows with our kids.
Our library has a famous collection of marionettes started in the 1960's by a well-known puppeteer, Tom Tichenor; and the Professor, Mary Mary and Library Pete, extraordinary performers, bring them to life for kids and parents every week. Through the years, we saw them all more than once- Cinderella, The Stonecutter, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretal, Tall Tale Circus to name a few but our favorite was always, John Updike's A Child's Calendar.
“The sprinkler twirls.
The summer wanes.
The pavement wears
— John Updike, A Child's Calendar from August
As I wrote by the mouse house, it was easy to see the four of us sitting on the floor of the library on a Saturday morning looking up to watch the passage of time between a boy and his grandfather. Winter turns to spring and summer to fall, and with each round of twelve months, they grew a year older. I saw their small legs next to ours grow longer and soon they were old enough to see the library's version of The Headless Horseman that played every October. I was the one most scared by the surprise ending.
I laughed every time Library Pete opened a show with "raise your hand if you are here. Ok now let me see a show of hands if you are not here." It' a good question. Am I here or am I not here? I wonder sometimes when I look up from the computer screen as I write. It's hard to believe that I am here and he is not, especially in moments when he seems so close or maybe it is in moments when he seems so far? Library Pete, Mary Mary and the Professor sang "it's a great day to make a new friend" but in many moments, I still miss my old friend.
It's hard to know from what distance the wind blows when I hear his voice but it always finds me on my parent's deck where my mom called "Jaybird, can you help me with the grill?" and after dinner, we ate strawberry and chocolate Mexican popsicles outside on summer evenings at their house on a hill. Grandchildren are growing a year older, and their knees get a little closer to the steering wheel with each circle of race cars around their deck. As they come to the end of another school year this May, my daughter will be a freshman and my son, a seventh grader.
I always find myself following goldfish crackers and cheerios this time of year. And today, they led me back to the mouse house to write where hungry kids and tired parents walked by on their way out of a marionette show. I slipped my note through the cracks between the books, and it brought me back to when I dropped love notes in middle school for high school crushes walking by in the hallways. Every time they passed them by unnoticed, but today he stopped.
I could not see his face from where I was sitting by the mouse house, but I thought it was him by the way he pulled down his shirt. I knew it was him when I saw the faces of the kids whose hands he held. When he noticed the note, he bent down and picked it up. "What's that? "Zoe asked as he opened it. She always wanted to know everything. When he did not answer, she poked his leg and asked him louder. I wanted to remind her to be quiet because we were in the library but finally, he spoke. "It's a note from mom," he said, and then I saw him slip it into his back pocket as I felt him smiling my way for a moment in time.
Thank you to the Nashville Public Library, especially the Professor, Mary Mary & Library Pete, for the memories and for all you bring to so many every week!
Summer Clothes by Marc Scibilia