Locked in the library


I have a Facebook acquaintance who recently posted an insane diatribe condemning President Joe Biden, his administration and all Democrats in general for “pushing for drag queens being allowed to perform for the children in the school libraries. They support and encourage sexually explicit books talking about little boys…”

Here I break off since my acquaintance goes totally off the rails describing in detail the perversions these drag queens encourage. Frankly, I didn’t think Facebook allowed language like that on its pages. He ended that ferocious paragraph with “and if you don’t believe it’s true then you are grossly uninformed and willfully ignorant.”

Since I have no desire to be uninformed or ignorant, I did a bit of research. I found several entries from last summer, but nothing since August of last year. I discovered that one library in a San Francisco suburb had a flamboyantly dressed man in for Drag Queen Story Hour. A group of Proud Boys descended on the event and I can’t find there has been another one since that time. I found that in NYC, the Department of Education allocated money for performers dressed in drag to come into several public schools and private schools in order to read to the children. I can’t find any information on that subject after August last summer and the article I read in the New York Post cited that most parental reaction was negative.

So, of course, this made me think. I remembered when I was in fifth grade we had a clown come in to read to us. The clown was dressed in a very flamboyant outfit. The clown didn’t stir any urges of any sort within me – I have never had thoughts of becoming a clown. Once the school brought in a guy dressed like a cowboy. He was fun, but dreaming of becoming a cowboy never appealed to me. When my daughter was in third grade,.Webster Elementary had a gentleman dressed like an indigenous American Indian come in to talk about life as an Indian. I attended that one. It did not encourage my daughter to want to go native, nor has she devoted any time to fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples.

So, I don’t know. Since this is an opinion piece I guess if you’re reading this far you might be curious where I stand on this issue. I do have strong feelings, but they are conflicted. I think that if my grade schooler must be exposed to an alternative lifestyle, I guess I would prefer it be in a controlled manner – like, in the school, and especially if I were allowed to attend, which I would demand. I think I would prefer that over exposure on Tik Tok or on the street somewhere.

I also disapprove of NYC’s spending taxpayer money on these events. If the Highland County Public School System is planning anything like this in the future, I’m pretty sure I would attend my first school board meeting to express my opinion — in a heated manner. At the same time, I support our local group of LGBTQ, and I think the festivals and performances they create on occasion are healthy and I think they have the right to express this facet of their personalities.

I responded to my FB friend’s thoughtless fears (he often opines that the Democratic Party has ruined his favorite country beyond all repair), by calmly telling him that I had over 25 years teaching experience in four separate school districts as an English teacher and that his apprehensions are unwarranted. I was the head of the English department at Laurel Oaks for many years and I knew every book in our library, was responsible for the purchase of many of them and we were careful what we put on our shelves. I found it amusing that the last five years I taught I was allowed to do a unit on the American classic “Catcher in the Rye.” When I did a book report on “Catcher” when I was a senior at Hillsboro High School, Mrs. Murphy, who liked me up until my report, labelled me “degenerate” and challenged me to stand and read my report to the class. Which I was thrilled to do.

Now to the subject of this essay: When I was in fourth grade I was in the back of the kid’s section of the Highland County Library, behind a floor to ceiling bookcase, sitting on the heating register — it was a cold day in January — reading a copy of Kipling’s “Jungle Book.” I was so happy, so engrossed, that I failed to notice someone had turned out the lights. I was on the register in a window nook. The library had closed and unknown to me, I was locked in.

Instead of panicking, I was ecstatic. I had already read most of the books in the kid’s section and being a fourth grader was barred from reading books in the adult section. Of course, I couldn’t understand that. So, seeing my opportunity, I made haste to the adult books. The library, at that time, was in the Scott Building.

I stood in that room with the forbidden books all around me. I could see the works of Ernest Hemingway. I had already read one of his short stories and I wanted more. In my mom’s Reader’s Digest, I read an excerpt from Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.” And there was the book, right next to “The Grapes of Wrath.” I already had a huge book with all the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories by Doyle, but I noticed another volume with his name on it – “The Lost World”. What? What! I walked along the bookshelves, my fingertips touching the endless supply of fiction before me. How could I ever read all this? But I was determined to try. I had hit the jackpot. I had hit the mother lode. I was surrounded by gold. I was rich. Rich!

I could tell by the gathering darkness that I was maybe in trouble. I had surely missed dinner and my mom was probably convinced I had been murdered, so I went back to the front desk and called my dad. After, I went to the magazine room and sat in one of the chairs. I was sorely tempted to go back to the forbidden room. I didn’t get it. What was in there that older and wiser people didn’t want me to learn? I knew there was a book called, “Peyton Place” and it was not for kids. I had seen the preview of the movie at the Colony Theatre. Lots of grabbing and kissing and crying and very serious music. Nothing about that movie interested me except for the fact that there was no way I’d ever get to see it. (Frankly, I still haven’t seen that silly movie.) OK. I didn’t want to read that book. The book I really wanted was “White Fang” by Jack London. I had seen “The Call of the Wild” on TV and couldn’t figure why London’s work wasn’t in the kid’s section.

My dad finally arrived, along with a man with keys, and I was sprung from the library. The next day I went in and told my beloved head librarian what I had done while locked in and she seemed to know all about it and, I guess, assumed I would use that time to check out the adult books. So we made an agreement. I could go to that room if she was there to go with me. She would approve of the books I selected. She would guide me. The library would make an “exception” in my case. I felt special.

The first book I checked out was “White Fang.” Soon after, I wrote my first piece of fiction, a blatant knock-off of White Fang. I asked my teacher and my librarian and others to read it and they seemed to like it. I knew then what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had no role model, I knew no one who wrote fiction, but I knew I couldn’t stop. Sixty-five years later. And I can’t stop.

Garry Boone is a Hillsboro resident.

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