Tuesday, August 4, 2009
THE SPIRIT OF SADIE LUCK
Back during and after WWII, when I used to walk home from school each afternoon, that two-mile trek had all of the magic and suspense of Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road. For me, Main Street had exotic features. There was the Park Lunch Room, a forbidden den filled with wails and yodels from Hank Snow and Lefty Frizzell. The big dope-box at the Farmer’s Federation was full of Orange Crushes; Hooper’s Drug Store had a huge comic book section, and Sylva’s two movie theaters had outdoor marques that displayed colorful pictures of Johnny Mac, Durango, Johnny Weissmuller and Dracula. Mashburn’s Shoe Shop had boxes of “second-hand funny books” and Charlie Campbell patiently showed me (again and again) how to build a “crystal set” radio. Ed Wilson at Western Auto stocked Red Ryder air rifles where I had one on “lay-away” for six months.
However, the most exciting place I visited almost every day was the library. It was only one room and the entire staff consisted of one person: Sadie Luck, a marvelous little woman with a slipping dental plate. “Come in, Gary Carden!” she would say (She knew everybody’s name.), “I’ve been saving something for you.” Then, she would give me something marvelous: Eric Knight’s Lassie, Come Home, Mary O’Hara’s Thunderhead, Son of Flicka or Walter Farley’s Return of the Black Stallion. I never could wait until I got home, but would sit by Sadie’s desk and enter a wind-swept prairie in Wyoming, a valley in Ireland or a remote island filled with horses.
Later, when I entered high school, the books that Sadie gave me changed: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, and finally, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Sometimes, Sadie gave me books to take home to my grandmother. I especially remember John Fox’s Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley.
Nor was Sadie content to merely hand me a book; later we would discuss it. Yes, Sadie actually read the books that she recommended. “What was your favorite part?” she would say. My appreciation for everything I read deepened because this kindly, nurturing woman caused me to think about: the green light on Gatsby’s pier and Wolfe’s grief for his brother, Ben. More than any teacher, more than any relative, Sadie Luck encouraged me in my love for literature. Indeed, she was the only person who said to me, “Perhaps, you should write, Gary.”
What is astonishing is to consider that I was but one of many who were influenced by Sadie Luck. Her days were spent dispensing books, advice and encouragement to children and adults. Indeed, in my mind’s eye I see her in that tiny room, bending to tie a child’s shoelace, or rummaging in her sweater pocket for a handkerchief as she tends to a child’s runny nose.
Obviously libraries and librarians have changed since my childhood. Equipped with computers, research archives, an awesome array of magazines, newspapers and film, music and thousands of books, our modern equivalent of Sadie’s tiny domain requires the services of a large, multi-talented staff. If Sadie could walk in our new library up on courthouse hill, she would, doubtless, be perplexed and bewildered. What would she make of all of this – storytelling, ordering, process, cataloging and outreach?
I would hope that there is still a place in our new facility for someone with Sadie Luck’s talents – Someone who realizes that for many of us, children and adults, libraries are magic. If the spirit of Sadie Luck resides in our new library, then it will continue to be a haven and a refuge for those of us who come like pilgrims to this wondrous place.
Recently, when a friend of mind told me that he was trying to attract butterflies to his garden, I asked him why.
“It isn’t a garden without butterflies," he said. He actually built a “butterfly house,” and recently, the butterflies came. I have to admit that there is something numinous or special about his garden now.
I propose that we do the same thing for Sadie Luck. Somewhere in that spacious building, could we not have a niche for “the spirit of Sadie Luck”? Maybe it need not be a physical space, but simply an invocation. I would like to suggest that we “invite” this shy compassionate spirit to live in our new library. Perhaps, if she comes, many of us will know she is there for she will whisper, “Welcome!"