My Happy Place

My earliest memory of visiting on my own, happened on a frigid blustery weekday afternoon in January, just after I turned eleven. With books in my knapsack, my blue puffy parka zipped to my chin, red stocking hat with a pompom on my head, matching mittens on my hands, and brown rubber boots on my feet, as soon as I left the last step of the cement staircase on the eastside of Bartlett Elementary, I sailed across Onota Street. There was the stop for the “B” Bus. Bracing the wind, I shivered awaiting the #5 that usually took me to the Girls Club for swimming lessons, but not that time. On that trek, I’d jump out one stop earlier, in downtown Pittsfield at Bank Row.

Standing in the crowded aisle filled with chilly dampness, staring at fogged windows, twenty-two minutes later the accordion door finally flung open. Departing, I held onto the railings careful not to slip off the black steps and land in the slush that always accumulated between the street and sidewalk. Righting myself, I looked up, and up, and was humbled by the mightiness before me.

Solidly built in Victorian Gothic style, it rose high against the gray sky.  Its dark blue marble came from Great Barrington, just down the road. The red freestone travelled further afield from Longmeadow. And its red granite came all the way from Missouri! With huge stained-glass windows, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and ornate decor, it commanded attention.

While intimidating from the outside, once I crossed the threshold through the tall glass and wooden doors, a shift took place.  Warmness came over me, not just from the permeating heated air. There I felt a sense of comfort, like a welcoming embrace, that took me in. Snug and comfy. The Berkshire Athenaeum was my happy place.

The original Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

While today February 14th is a day we celebrate love, giving heart-warming gifts and cards to our spouses, partners, family and friends, it is also a day dedicated to a place that has been essential to my life ever since I was old enough to read. Today is Library Lover’s Day. Hooray! This international holiday began in Australia in 2006 as a way to promote reading and raise awareness of all the services libraries offer.  Now it also honors librarians and all they do, as well as book lovers around the world.

From my journal: October 3, 1991 : Hillsboro, Oregon

At the Hillsboro Public Library today, worked on my resume and researched companies in the area…always love spending time there.”

If you’re like me, you know the thrill of walking into a hushed library and instantly feeling at home. It never gets old. I owe my love of libraries in part to my mom. She is an avid reader and instilled in me a love for the written word and stories that could take me anywhere, anytime I wanted to go.  When I was a beginning reader, she and I headed to the Berkshire Athenaeum every two weeks, unless we finished our books sooner. Over the years, we continued to visit even after it was relocated two doors down and became more modernized. When I got older and some friends would tell their parents they were “going to the library” – only to sneak off somewhere else – my parents never had to worry because they knew I’d be there.

So in honor of Library Lover’s Day, here is my poem of remembrance and gratitude.

The Berkshire Athenaeum

(How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.)

I love the silence that begins, at the opening of the door

The orderliness of shelves, stretching from the ceiling to the floor.

I love the scent of vintage, and the crispness of the new

Paperbacks and hard covers, their essence shining through

I love the search it takes to find, just the worthy gem

Perusing labeled sections, to finally locate them.

I love the weight of each, little treasure in my hands

No need for explanation, any bookworm understands.

I love the many worlds, books allow me to explore

People, places, and possibilities, I had never known before.

Oh Berkshire Athenaeum, where I got my reading start

Though many years ago, you’re forever in my heart.

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