As you've probably noticed, I like to write about the youngest of our library's patrons. No matter how hard my day, how difficult the task ahead of me, I always know that a quick stroll through the children's section will lift my heart. But there is a second group that holds a similar place in my affections, though theirs is, perhaps, a more subtle influence. I don't know if it's even politically correct to say this anymore, but I'm talking here about our older patrons, the senior citizens who use our facilities—now that I think about it—in almost the same numbers as children. Our elders gravitate to the library as, in another, simpler time, they did to the wood stove at the back of the village store. It is a warm place where they know they will find comfort, maybe a few friends to chat with, the latest news. They sit in our lounge area and read the magazines; they wander the stacks and discover new hobbies to adopt and master; they peruse the internet, marvelling, as we all do, at the immensity of its reach.
There is an eighty-something gentleman who comes to the library every Saturday to check his e-mail. He always stops to talk with me—baseball mostly, and, in season, strawberries and peaches (we both frequent the same pick-your-own farms). Years ago, when he found out my name, he dubbed me Chester, and I've been Chester Peak to him ever since. Now and then he brings me a piece of cake his wife has baked. And regardless of season, he always makes me happy, always makes me glad to see him. The world would be a poorer place without such as he.
Several years ago, I met a woman here who told me about her life as a young girl during World War II. Her father, an officer in the Polish army, had died fighting the German-Russian invasion of his homeland in 1939. For the crime of being this man's daughter, she was shipped off to Russia and tried for anti-Soviet activities. Incredibly, the courts there found her innocent and she was released. In Siberia. She was sixteen years old. She walked home. It took her the better part of three years.
People like this pass us by every day. Think of the riches they hold, the stories, the memories of times long gone. And of course what makes them all the more precious is time, the fact that the treasure they possess is so fragile, so impermanent. What I wouldn't give to be able to speak with my father again, with my grandfather—yet I am surrounded every day by fathers and grandfathers!
Years ago, there was an older couple who used to visit the library once a week. There was something almost girlish about the wife, who suffered, I believe, from Alzheimer's. Once, for instance, after her husband found her lost back in the stacks, I remember the way her eyes grew childishly wide and she exclaimed over his sudden appearance as a child might exclaim over a jack-in-the-box. The husband remonstrated with her gently. “Please don't wander off like that. You know I still need you, kid, I still need you.” Sometimes, looking at our older patrons, I feel like saying the same thing. “Please don't wander off. You know I still need you, kid, I still need you.”