Conscience of a Delinquent

overdue_bookWhat I love most about Foxboro is the library.

I grew up in a very small town in the swamps of Southeastern Massachusetts. I am told that I have had ancestors living in that same town for 300 years. I guess we didn’t get around much. When I was growing up everyone in town was a second or third cousin. When I return everyone in town still knows me, and I find myself looking warily around, wondering who they are and what they remember about me.

By contrast, Foxboro is a great metropolis. You can go to a supermarket without leaving town. The center has everything you want within walking distance. With one trip on a Saturday morning you can buy stamps, pick out five intriguing paperbacks, three videos, and some beer to wash it all down with. Voila! I have everything I could possibly want for the weekend.

When my husband and I married we discussed where to live. We got out a map, put in a pin where his parents lived, another where my parents lived, and a third and fourth for where we each worked. When we drew lines between the pins, they intersected in Foxboro. We drove though, and were charmed by the town common. We stopped for coffee at Bliss brothers in Sharon, half a mile from where we now live. We tried to imagine a future in Foxboro. Kids, suburban living. An improbable dream, but the type of thing newlyweds discuss.

I am still terribly pleased to be living in Foxboro. When my kids drive though my old town, they inevitably cry. “How did you ever survive growing up in that wilderness? What did you do? Didn’t you just die as a teenager there?” And I reply with a certain smugness. “Aren’t you grateful we moved to Foxboro?”

The town I grew up in did have a library. And it was quite satisfactory in its own way. It was a single room that was open on Saturday afternoons, and Tuesday evenings. I and my mother or aunt would walk up, and the librarian would be waiting for us. “Here, these just came in from the bookmobile! You’ll like these. Carol-Ane, try this book.” We were never expected to bring our books back within two weeks. Obviously, once my mother had read the book, she would pass it on to my aunt, who would give the book to my grandmother, who in turn would hand it to my other aunt.

I remember entering the Foxboro library for the first time. It looked like a dream come true. It was two stories high, with thousands of books. Childrens stories, fiction, self-help books, best-sellers, and videos. I am also amazed that I am still allowed to borrow, with my record. Especially now that it is all computerized, and they must know exactly how many times, and how many days I have been delinquent in returning my borrowed treasures.

I always expect to walk in, and trigger alarms. A siren will scream, lights will flash, and a cage will descend from the ceiling. I will be ushered off into a very small dark room deep in the basement of the building. There I will have to spend an eternity tormented by the sight of thousands of books just out of my reach.

This hasn’t happened yet. The librarians don’t even blink when they punch in my Able card. They smile, and tell me I can pay later if I want. When I reserve a book, they call me, or hand it to one of my children who hang out there. I’m grateful, and I leave once more with several more books than I can possibly read, vowing that this time I will return them all on time.

I go home and look at the overdue notices on my refrigerator. And in my dreams the librarian keeps smiling and telling me I can pay later if I want….

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