Bookworm, The Story of a Kid Who Love Books
Let me tell you straight up. This is not a crime story. Instead, it is, as one of my editors used to say, "Just a good old fashioned yarn." And it is based on a true story. Rod
Adam, Dan, John, Mark, Aloysius, Bradford, Samuel, and Kent were the suburban 'Easy Riders.' Everyone had a bike. Everyone rode their bikes everywhere they went.
The Riders always had baseball gloves over their bikes' handlebars because they never knew when a game would break out.
Such were the summers of their childhood in St. Isidore.
Summer was also the aroma of eight-cylinder engines that powered their parents' cars. That mixed with the smell of the oil, gas, and blue smoke putt-putting out of their fathers' lawnmowers. Add to that the heavy scent of the blades of grass newly cut by those mowers.
The soundtrack of their summers was that of baseball games heard on radios in their suburban community. So many radios played those games that the Easy Riders never missed an inning as they raced home during the evenings before the street lights came on.
It, too, was the sound of the Riders yelling at the girls in the neighborhood who had not been noticed until the first few started growing breasts. Summer was also the sound of Al Jr.'s mother yelling out the window, "Aloysius, come home and do the dishes."
It was all they knew. Who could want more?
Except for Adam. He knew the library, and he wanted more.
Adam loved the library. The Arthur P. Miller branch opened up the world to him. Adam saw the possibilities of life were endless. And no one, not even the grown-ups, told Adam he couldn't read what he wanted to read.
Don't think Adam wasn't good on the ball field. He was. Never great, and he never would be. But Adam was okay, and that was good enough for him.
Adam could hit, run, and catch with the most average of the rest. He didn't care if he was the best. Adam just wanted to be better than the worst.
It was in the library where he stood above the crowd. Adam put himself into every book he read. Biographies of great explorers, sports heroes, scientists were on his list. Adam also read chronicles of war throughout history. Then there were the fiction books that took Adam anywhere his imagination could lead.
It would be a mistake to think Adam was some kind of a bookworm slug who sat and read all day. He never slowed down. He was always up at dawn. Breakfast with his big brother and sister at seven a.m. while they fought over the toy in the Captain Crunch box. Then he'd grab his baseball hat, glove, and bat, and Adam was on the tree-lined streets of St. Isidore by nine.
On his bicycle — ball glove over the handlebar, baseball hat on his head, bat over his shoulder — Adam wouldn't think about going home until lunchtime at noon.
There was a day Adam didn't come home on time. He ran away once, just this once, but came home before the street lights came on.
Asked by his father if he had learned anything from the ordeal, Adam replied, "Yes, never run away on an empty stomach."
Yet, as busy as were these days of summer for this boy of St. Isidore, for one solitary hour, from nine a.m. to about ten a.m., Adam was his own man. None of the other kids would be outside until the crack of nine-thirty or ten, so he went to the library.
Adam loved the library. He loved being around the books. To him, it felt like an indoor version of the ball field behind St. Isidore Elementary.
Like the ball field, the library had its own sights, sounds, and aroma that were golden to Adam.
The library, even more than the ball diamond, was Adam's second home.
It was even better than the ball field. Adam never had to pretend to care inside the library. And it was much better than his first home if only because this is where Adam could be his own man.
Best yet, when he started reading, Adam could be anyone he wanted to be.
Adam would park his bike in the metal rack, grab his glove and bat to keep them safe and wait by the front door.
"Good morning, Mrs. Cody," he muttered every morning as the librarian opened the door, both of them thinking she moved kind of quick for a woman of her age and size.
Adam figured she had to be at least fifty years old if she was a day, with grey hair on top and a little white whisker growing out of her chin.
Mrs. Cody wasn't the most attractive woman in St. Isidore, even for a woman her age. But Mrs. Cody looked comfortable.
"Good morning, Adam," she would say as the door opened to let him in, always her first customer of the day.
Adam set his bat and glove in the library's coatroom but kept his hat on his head. It would stay there until dinner time unless somebody knocked it off in a fight or it flew off while Adam was sliding into second, third, or home later in the day.
"What are we going to be reading today?"
Adam would always shrug his shoulders, laugh nervously and keep moving. Grown-ups made him feel a little creepy, especially when they had a white whisker growing out of their chin.
He felt better in the stacks. That's what his parents called the shelves of books. Stacks.
A couple mornings a week, Adam's imagination would be pulled out of the pages of whatever book had caught his interest by the door chimes. Adam didn't have to look back over his shoulder to see who was coming in next.
If it was either Tuesday or Thursday, and this day was Tuesday, it had to be Mr. Kalinowski. He was St. Isidore's, Library Man. He was as short as some of the kids in Adam's school and wide as he was tall, with a trimmed white beard cut close to his face. Adam thought he would have made a good Santa if Mr. Kalinowski had been taller, fatter, and let his beard grow.
"Good morning, Benjamin," Mrs. Cody would say every Tuesday and Thursday. "My, what a load of books you have in your arms."
"Yes, Mrs. Cody, and good morning to you too," Mr. Kalinowski would say, "just more of my friends to return to the library's shelves."
Adam never paid much attention to their conversations past the "good mornings." He would quickly get lost in the stacks, again. So many books in all sizes and all shapes, on more subjects than he could imagine.
Sometimes Adam would spend the hour just looking at the books. Taking one down. Opening it, looking at the words, and then putting it back. He would wander down the row, taking another book down, reading a few paragraphs, and putting it back.
It was just good to be around books. Some of the volumes felt so perfect in Adam's hand that he didn't want to put them back on the shelf. Plastic was on the book covers of some, just old hardcovers on others. There was never a book without its own personality. They each had their own history too.
They even smelled good when Adam flipped the pages fast under his nose.
He could smell the paper, the binding, the cigarette the last person who read the book had smoked, and maybe what was cooking in the kitchen the last time it was opened.
Adam would inhale and become as lost in those scents as he did in words on the page. Every aroma told him something of the people, like him, who had touched the book, enjoyed the book, and lived with the book, if only for a short time.
A book was so much more than mere words to Adam. He would have told his friends, but he knew they wouldn't understand, so he never bothered.
Baseball was their life on these summer days.
Books were his life every day.
Benjamin Kalinowski struggled to move behind Adam with new books under his arm.
I smell old man, Adam would think. Sometimes that's that in the books, too.
Benjamin never spoke to Adam. He would nod and give him a little half-smile, but the boy always seemed so nervous, he didn't want to press. Besides, Benjamin had other things to do.
He would greet Mrs. Cody, drop off an armload of books that he had checked out a few days before, and go to the wooden card file that so tall Mr. Kalinowski had to stand tip-toe to reach the drawers on the top row.
Benjamin loved the Dewey Decimal system card file as much as Adam loved the books.
The little wooden drawers were perfectly sized for the thousand and thousands of cards, each with a book title, an author's name, and those Dewey Decimal system numbers.
People had been pulling the little wooden drawers out and pushing them back in for years and years at the St. Isidore Public Library. And, they still worked perfectly every time.
"How could there ever be anything better than this?" Benjamin Kalinowski would say to no one in particular. Speaking to himself was a habit. There was no one at home to listen anymore. Well, Mrs. Kalinowski, Beatrice, was there. She heard. But she didn't understand anymore.
The little wooden drawers whispered out, which is precisely how Benjamin Kalinowski, Mrs. Cody, and even Adam thought it should be in the St. Isidore Public Library. When a patron finished, they whispered back just as quietly.
This is craftsmanship, Benjamin Kalinowski would always say to himself.
The title pages of the books were another story. They were usually such a mess. Mrs. Cody never did it, but some of the other librarians — the younger ones — would stamp the due date on the books' inside pages so sloppily, never in a row. Just wherever the ink stamp landed, the due date would be. They had no respect for the unprinted page.
"If I wasn't paying attention, I wouldn't know the right date the books were due," Benjamin said to his daughter Mary Beth. She brought her parents lunch and then dinner every day.
She stayed and chatted with her father as long as she could every time. He had no one else to talk to, or better put, no one else to speak with.
Adam never thought much about this either, but Mr. Benjamin Kalinowski got around pretty good for a man his age and size.
"Seventy-four years old, and I have never felt better," Benjamin would say to anyone who would listen.
Maybe he did feel that way. No one disagreed. Perhaps no one really heard. However, when they did pay attention, they saw Mr. Benjamin Kalinowski taking an armload of books to the library two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. They would also see him bringing an armload home with him every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
It didn't matter what the weather was like. Mr. Benjamin Kalinowski never missed a Tuesday or a Thursday at the library. The people of St. Isidore would see him walking through the rain in the spring, the sunshine of a humid summer morning, the leaves of autumn, and tramping through the snow of winter.
He was as much a fixture, and as regular, as the street lights that turned on at sunset and the sky grew dark on Devos Avenue and turned off when the sun rose, and the sky grew bright.
Benjamin Kalinowski never failed. Tuesdays and Thursdays were library days.
Until one day, they weren't. Until one day, he died.
The end of Benjamin Kalinowski's life was the first time Adam had to deal with the death of anyone he knew. Adam and his parents went to the Glasscock Funeral Home to pay their last respects.
Mr. Kalinowski didn't look like he was dead; at least he didn't look like the people who got killed on TV. Adam thought the old man looked like he was asleep.
"He should have books," Adam said. "He was always reading."
"He never read much," said Mary Beth.
"But he must have," said Adam. "He was always bringing books to the library and taking more home."
"Oh no, he never read any of those books," Mary Beth said. "My father figured out the library's system. He checked out books that were being ignored before they were sent to the basement. But he never read them."
Mr. Kalinowski had a purpose in his life.
Adam made it his the next day, which was Tuesday.