Bay Library – the name sounds almost poetic, doesn’t it? The one-three syllable word combination, the alliteration, the brevity. In truth, the Bay Library wasn’t the epicenter of Bay Village, Ohio, but a lot happened there when I was a kid.
Let me define kid: that period that begins from the time we learn Santa Claus isn’t real to the time we want to kiss someone who isn’t a family member. I doubt I would have any memories of those years at all if not for the Bay Library, where every spring and through the summer and fall, maple trees lined the walkway, like soldiers in military formation, to form an arching, green canopy across the pavement that lead to the library’s entrance.
My family and I moved to Bay Village from the Cleveland Tremont area in 1963 five months before the assassination of President Kennedy, when, after school started, once a month we practiced – incongruously – for a nuclear attack by kneeling under our school desks. No third grader truly understood the destruction a nuclear bomb could cause; we just kneeled beneath those little desks, made scary faces, and giggled at each other. But there was certainly nothing to fear in the library – well, maybe books by Ray Bradbury, Peter Saxon, and H.P. Lovecraft frightened us.
My life, like a novel plot with no backstory, emerged at the library, where, thanks to books, my friends and I first discovered chivalrous knights and their medieval battles involving broadswords, maces, and pikes. Later, our interests turned to the unknown future and the novels of Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov, where lasers and ray guns were most protagonists’ weapons of choice. We collected our books and raced home on our bikes to read until the ice cream van made its way down our street on late summer afternoons, providing us our first experience with commerce as we negotiated the exchange of the quarters we clutched in our palms for the ice cream bars or popsicles inside that truck.
Indeed, it was almost an adventure to ride our bikes to the library and select a book without adult supervision. At the library, our bikes could rest comfortably on the front lawn for hours – no kid or parent feared it would be stolen. Indeed, the library introduced us to safety and friendship. Books became our compliant friends, and librarians reminded us of our favorite aunts. This was a life that couldn’t be rehearsed.
I returned to the Bay Library in the fall not too long ago for a 30-year high school reunion, and I could not catch my breath as I drove down the street. I slowed my car in front of the new library – a spacious and deep, one-story structure whose white stucco walls gleamed bright in the sunshine. This wasn’t the library I remembered. But the books of my childhood remained inside, ready to be borrowed today, much like the way we borrowed them when I was a kid. I didn’t go inside, afraid, I guess, to damage those memories I had of a red brick building and wooden fiction shelf I visited as a youth. When I drove on, I worried for a moment that maybe, just maybe, my memories of forty years ago, like the stacks of those novels on the shelves, were fictionalized.
Keith Manos is an author from Northeast Ohio who has written ten books including Wrestling Coach’s Survival Guide, Writing Smarter, and My Last Year of Life (in School), among others.
He is currently reading New Boy by Tracy Chevalier.
Available in the following formats:
Keith Manos visits the Club Ink writing workshop at the Chardon Branch Wed., Sept. 6, 7 p.m. to present his Powerful Sentences seminar on the significance of rhythm in forming sentences and helping editors notice your work.