Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > Lost Books Found at the Talbot County Free Library
Not too long ago I had the dubious pleasure of undergoing an endoscopy. As I was lying on the table before lights-out, my right eye began to water. The nurse-anesthetist, who was about to administer the potion that would send me into never-never land, stopped whatever complicated task she was then doing and, using a cotton swab, began to gently wipe my eye. For some reason the thought that this lady—who probably made three or four times what I make, and deserved every penny of it—was wiping my tears away made me feel a little foolish, and I said, “Oh, you don't have to do that.” The woman looked down at me over her surgical mask, eyes smiling, and said, “I can't help myself, I'm a nurse.”
Years and years ago, before most of you were born, I left the sweet, cossetted world of elementary school and, at eleven years of age, entered Louisville's old Barrett Junior High. Most of the boys in my class took this step up as a sign that they could now behave like adolescents, and began enthusiastically talking about girls and cars, cracking wise to adults, and calling each other by their last names. I observed this unexpected transformation with not a little trepidation. I had enjoyed my childhood—the sandlot baseball, the bobber-fishing, the endless games of Four-Square and Ghost at Midnight—I wasn't at all sure I wanted to leave boyhood behind quite so soon. But if I didn't, it seemed I would be left behind. Life presented me with few options.
Then Miss Baird, our English teacher, took us on a tour of the school's tiny library. In a little-used corner of that little-used room, I found a book that must have been printed at least fifty years before, its cover worn, pages foxed, signatures showing through at the top and bottom of its spine. The book had been written by an elderly Sioux Indian sometime around 1900, and it promised to tell me the story of his life on the northern plains before the advent of white men. Miss Baird had said we each had to check out and read one of the library's books. I had found mine.
That book, illustrated with the first Edward Curtis photographs I ever saw, helped me survive Barrett Junior High. At a time when I didn't seem to fit in anywhere—neither a teen yet, nor a child—I discovered in its pages the perfect escape, a life in which boys grew up to ride horses from one end of the known world to the other, to hunt buffalo, fish for trout, and count coup against their mortal enemies, the Blackfoot. The Sioux, it seemed to me, were the noblest of people, a quiet, dignified race that lived life out-of-doors and unafraid. And that majestic, unfettered life was now gone. We had destroyed it. And there was something about the fact that the modern world (which now required the destruction of my childhood) had so utterly destroyed the Sioux's world that appealed to me, appealed to my own sense of alienation and foreboding.
Like the Plains Indians' horse culture, like my childhood, that book too is now gone, lost. Sadly, I no longer remember its name or its author's name. I have searched high and low for it over the years, even, once, in my forties, returning to the library at Barrett in hopes of finding it again. But all to no avail. Then, in my early fifties, I went to work for the Talbot County Free Library and suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel. For almost immediately I discovered that, as a nurse—no matter how far she has risen in her field—cannot resist the urge to relieve her patient's discomfort, so a librarian—no matter how far she has risen in her field—cannot resist the urge to satisfy her patron's hunger for a book.
It was our Information Services Librarian, Jo Powers, who first accepted the challenge of finding my long-lost book. Since then I have mentioned the book to any number of other librarians, given them all the particulars of plot and character I can recall, and pretty much all of them have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to finding it. Indeed, I have little doubt that, once this column is published, I will hear from other librarians interested in taking up the gauntlet. That's the way librarians are. And I have every confidence that someday, surely, one of them will succeed and, once again, I will ride bareback with my long-lost Sioux friend across a bright, immaculate world still sparkling with the dews of Creation.
And so I urge you, if there is a book out there you have lost touch with, one that perhaps helped you, as mine did, surmount the apparently insurmountable, do not lose hope. There is a librarian waiting even now at the Talbot County Free Library to help you retrieve it … retrieve it and all that it meant to you.
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