Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > Familiarity Breeds Contentment at the Library
Let me tell you about the time, this past summer, when I went into town to run some errands and walked into a hole in the universe.
For years now the kind people at Hill's Drug Store have stocked Williams Mug Shaving Soap for me. Especially for me, I believe. Surely there aren't many men left in Talbot County who still resort to mug, brush, and razor to rid themselves of the morning's accumulated bushiness. So, as has long been my habit, when my current soap began to wear thin, I drove into town, parked in Hill's parking lot, walked around to the front of the building, stepped up to the black wooden door with its old familiar latch, pushed upon it as I have a thousand times before, and, for the first time in my life, the door didn't open. Shocked, I looked through the window into an empty and forlorn darkness. Hill's was gone. It was like looking into a dead man's house.
When I first moved here twenty-five years ago, I fell in love with Talbot County. Yes, I know, even after a quarter of a century I will always and forever be a “come-here,” but, still, there was just something about this place that said “home” to me. I remember watching two boys exit their school bus one afternoon, walk about twenty yards down the dirt road that led to their home, step into the bushes at the side of the road and then reemerge with the bicycles they had stashed there that morning before catching the bus into town. I remember going to the bank the first time, transacting a little business at a teller's window, and then asking if I needed to step across to one of the desks opposite to open a new account. The teller said yes … and then offered to walk me over!
I remember the long stroll you used to be able to take on a wooden walkway that bisected the old Shannahan and Wrightson Building front to back, the way you could step into it from Washington Street, walk past an assortment of small shops and food stalls, past the back entrance to Rowan's and a pet store's squawking, noisome menagerie, before exiting, finally, through what I think was a woman's clothing store, onto Harrison Street. All of these places, now gone, said “Easton” to me, “Talbot County.” They were local, homegrown establishments with all sorts of local, homegrown ties and history.
But it was the Hill's on Dover that really exemplified for me the wholesome flavor of my new hometown. Remember the Laurel and Hardy figurines that used to stand incongruously in the drugstore's front window? What on earth did Laurel and Hardy have to do with the services provided by a modern, up-to-date pharmacy? But there they stood, because one of the Hills was apparently a fan, and because we all knew and admired the Hills, we admired Ollie and Stan, thought their presence not just appropriate but reassuring.
Remember the old-fashioned “Guess Your Weight” machine that stood just inside the front door at Hill's? To walk past that machine and then have the incomparable Liz Robinson glance up from behind the counter and say, “Hello, William! We're holding two prescriptions for you …”—it made me feel as though I belonged, that I too was part of the community that Liz Robinson belonged to. I would pick up my prescriptions, walk over to the soda fountain, sit down on a stool, and order a chocolate malted milkshake. And every now and then, if I was very lucky, Doc Hill would sit down on the stool next to me and we'd talk baseball. Life doesn't get much better than that.
Driving home that day, after I'd discovered the old Hill's was forever gone, I felt kind of blue. Would Talbot County eventually (inevitably?) fall prey to the sort of one-size-fits-all America of big box stores and national chains? Would Easton become little better than a bedroom community for Washington and Baltimore, indistinguishable from places like Bowie and Severna Park? But then, happily, I remembered our library.
From the beginning, even before I went to work there, the Talbot County Free Library made me feel at home. The kind people at the information and circulation desks recognized and acknowledged me: they knew the sort of books I liked to read, the movies I liked to watch, the music I listened to. I could, and did, turn to them often for help as I performed the research that would result in The Oblate's Confession.
And now that I work at the library, I get to do the welcoming myself; I get to watch patrons I know and care for sit in our periodicals section and chat quietly as, once upon a time, their forefathers would have chatted around a potbellied stove. I get to watch young mothers read to their little ones in the children's section; I get to watch those children grow up and return to the library as adult patrons. To work in a place where people feel safe to talk with one another, to bring their children, to reconnect and create community…. Well, I am a very lucky man.
Oh, and by the way, not too long after I discovered that the Hill's on Dover was no more, I stopped by what I still think of as “the new Hill's” on Idlewild to pick up a prescription for my wife (whose last name, I should point out, is different from my own). When the clerk rang up the purchase, a look of surprise suddenly animated her face. “Well I've never seen that before,” she said. “A note from Liz Robinson just popped up on my screen. It says I'm to tell you we're now stocking your Williams Mug Shaving Soap in this store.”
Contact Us | | | Library News