First loves … first libraries

The way I see it, First Love can be broken down into two categories:

Romantic love.


“Other” can include everything from restoring classic cars to brewing bathtub gin to collecting thimbles.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you about my first romantic love (if forced to do so, I would lie), but happily invite you to join me aboard the Good Ship Reminiscence for the “other” category.

Ahem (clearing my throat)…

The object of my first non-romantic love was a library. Many things have changed over the years, but the town where I grew up is still intact and in situ in my imagination. The hub of the town was my family, because when we are young, we always perceive ourselves as being at the center of the universe. The radii from my hub reached out in all directions from our big old Tudor house to anywhere I wanted to ride on my bicycle.

This included my friend Laurel’s house on Terrace Court, Central School on Greenwood Avenue, the Glencoe Beach on Lake Michigan, the Glencoe Movie Theater on Vernon Avenue, and the crown jewel of my commuting collection – the Glencoe Public Library, smack dab in the middle of town.

I would park my bicycle behind the green shuttered Colonial style brick building, walk around to the front of the library, past the fountain, under the portico, and into a world of things that I needed and wanted very much.

To the left of the entryway was a large space replete with Queen Anne chairs, side tables bearing decorative lamps, Oriental carpets, wide windows overlooking leafy lawns, and oil paintings on paneled walls. Close your eyes and conjure up the reading room at a British men’s club in a Lord Peter Wimsey novel.

Open your eyes.

Okay. You’re there!

In the center area beyond the foyer was the checkout desk. Past that was a small room with expansive wood desks perfect for doing homework, and at the back of that room were French doors, which lead out to the small slate terrace where I had parked my bike.

Slightly to the left of the checkout desk was a door leading to the children’s room, of which I have absolutely no memory, and to the right of checkout were row after row of floor to ceiling bookshelves.

Almost hidden among the shelves were utilitarian steps leading downstairs.

It was there, sitting on the floor in the cellar, that I discovered what I loved most in the Glencoe Public Library: Piles and piles and piles of back issues of LIFE Magazine. Each was a magic carpet that carried me to an earlier time, giving me not only the news of the day, but also the intimate feel of an era long before my time – brought to me courtesy of stories, photographs, and often ludicrous yet always entertaining full-page ads:

Watercolor of a little boy in shorts leaning against a picket fence beside a pigtailed girl and a small dog, all eagerly awaiting a bus coming down the street. Headline: “Their hero arrives on the next bus.” Body copy: “Advice to Wives ~ One of home’s greatest charms for Daddy is the icebox…well stocked with Budweiser.”

Black and white ad with photographs of Dorothy Lamour barely draped in a towel. Headline: “Dainty Girls Win Out.” Dialogue bubble: “A Lux Toilet Soap beauty bath is the best way I know to insure daintiness.”

Daintiness? Good grief!

Sepia illustration of a stylishly dressed young woman slung over the lap of a man in a chair. His arm is raised to spank her. Her arms and legs are flailing in protest. Headline: “IF YOUR HUSBAND EVER FINDS OUT” in bold capital letters, followed by, “you’re not store-testing for fresher coffee.”

Alone in the basement of the Glencoe Public Library, I learned so much, I absorbed so much, and I had so much fun. I remember one advertisement of W.C. Fields extolling the virtues of drinking whiskey with his breakfast cereal. I remember articles on the Dionne Quintuplets in Canada, and photographs of Americans liberating Nazi concentration camps, Hungarians resisting Soviet tanks, Gandhi in a diaper beside a spinning wheel, an Appalacian farm family clustered around a Ben Franklin stove, and a sailor kissing a nurse in Time Square at the end of World War II. I remember the soft feel of old magazine paper, the cold smell of a basement, and the warm smell of logs burning in the fireplace of the library’s comfortable reading room.

Most of all, though, I remember that unlike my first romantic love (about which I will always lie) my “other” first love had a happy beginning and middle, with no end in sight. It was built, beautified, staffed, stacked, stuffed, and maintained with an eye to giving me everything I would ever want or need from the printed page.

Libraries… particularly that library.

Ah… the joys of reciprocal love!

Shelly Reuben’s novels have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben

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