Tuesday, August 4, 2009


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!"


  1. What a great writer you are! You got me thinking about Ms. Whidbee at the Perquimans County library in Hertford and how she was the same for me as I would walk home from school. Thanks for the story and I'm sure Sadie Luck will be in the library no matter what.

  2. Thank you, kind sir. I might add that when I hit my teens, Sadie worried about my morbid interest in Erskine Caldwell and Mickey Spillane (sp.?). I remember a book with a lurid cover (a woman putting on nylons and smoking at the same time) entitled "Alabam." It mysteriously disappeared, along with a Frank Yerby book with a cover that depicted a woman with a torn bodice.

  3. Love this post, Gary! I would have loved to be that sort of librarian -- in a tiny place handing the right book to the right person. Come to think of it, I do tend to press my favorites on my friends . . .

  4. Yes, I do the same thing to the point of being irritating.... and I still remember talking to Sadie about Old Pete, the old plug horse, dying in the snow .... what was that in? Maybe Green Grass of Wyoming.


    The Black Stallion books were some of my childhood favorites and usually that and Black Beauty will make their way into my novels - the characters reading them, that is. *smiling*

  6. Thanks for another great story. I have a special place in my heart for librarians. It really annoyed me last fall when the snickering pundits would refer to Sarah Palin as having a "sexy librarian" if there's some COMICAL INCONGRUENCE between "sexy" and "librarian." What an insult that was to librarians! OK, sorry about that rant...but I had to get it off my chest. Now, what would be a suitable invocation? Hmmm......

  7. I hadn't thought about that. Maybe on the first day the new library is open, we could all go visit and whisper (or think) as entered, "Come home, Sadie." Or maybe, "Welcome back, Sadie." Yeah, I'm good with that.

  8. Here's to Sadie Luck, Mrs. Sandusky and their place in our lives, our hearts and hopefully forever in our libraries.

    Ben F. Eller

  9. Alas, my librarian story is of a totally different kind of lady. I was 15, new in a big city school after 10 years in a small country school, and in those romantic years I added an ia at the end of my name rather than the plain e I should have. She found where I'd done that once on a couple of book checkouts and one in my regular spelling and gave me a lashing about trying to steal books by using ficticious names. I was so humiliated I only went there the rest of the year when I was absolutely required to by a class assignment. I try to make it to myself now by talking loud in libraries and disturbing sleeping old men. (Nah, not really, but it makes my comment more interesting.) Really nice story you wrote here.

  10. Thank you, Alice. I had a bad experience with a librarian, too, when I went to college and I was almost expelled because I didn't understand what a reserved book was. It was on the painter Goya, and I took it home and kept it two weeks. We had a called assembly and the librarian announced that I owed something like $500 in overdue fines. Her name was Mrs. Buchanhan and she had one of those little nose spectacle things. Never forget her.

  11. Gary,

    Long ago in a far away galaxy I had an English teacher who operated his own lending library. He was way ahead of his time in recommending books to a high school kid who really knew nothing of the outside world. First came "The Catcher in the Rye",then "Temple of Gold", "On the Road". "The Fires of Spring", "The Circus of Dr. Lao", and many other books by such authors as Philip Wylie, John DosPassos, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Theodore Dreiser, etc. There were discussions about Manolete the Spanish bullfighter. We listened to the flamenco music of some guitarist who name I no longer recall. There were many other special moments when you took us beyond the limits of our small world of 1960. Thanks ever so much. Hope to be up that way soon.

    Best regards,

  12. Don,
    I guess the Spanish guitarist was Segovia, and I had forgotten about poor Philip Wylie. Thank God, I had the presence of mind to talk about William Goldman and I was thinking about "The Fires of Spring" this morning ... like maybe I might be one of those aging wrecks who senses the approach of spring and knows that he won't be a participant this year... Glad to know you are still out there, Don. When are you going to blow the lid off Cartersville?