My mom was a school librarian for 30 years. She retired before 60 as she began working in her early 20s and never stopped. When she told me she was calling it quits, I teased her all the time. “You’re not ready to retire,” I always said. I couldn’t see this smart, vibrant woman no longer getting up and going to work every day. My picture of retirement was limited to occasional volunteering and philanthropic work. Traveling. All great things she’d done in the past, but things I couldn’t picture her doing in lieu of being in a school library.
By her late 50s she insisted kids had changed so much and librarian duties had evolved into things outside her sphere of interest – she loved books – it simply was no longer her dream job.
As it turns out, she had a plan. A brand new shopping center was going up nearby, and it promised a Barnes & Noble in the line up of big box stores. Every time we drove past the site, she pointed and smiled, sharing her post-retirement dream to work at the bookseller and enjoy the discounts.
She retired and became a part-time media specialist (I knew it!), filling in for those who needed to be out on leave or what have you. But she never did make it behind the counter of the Barnes & Noble. One Memorial Day weekend, she had a heart attack. Less than 24 hours later, she died. That was 2003, the same year that long-awaited store finally opened. It always saddens me to know she missed it.
It’s 2013. That Barnes & Noble recently went the way of many large box booksellers these days – kaput. In fact, July marked the end of its lease, and a wig shop is said to be on the way to take its place.
I know some feel as if the big sellers are getting their just rewards, and if people bought enough books from the brick and mortar stores, they’d still be around anyway. But I don’t have the nostalgia for the community bookseller. We didn’t have one aside from the used book shop in the plaza across from the park. And that plaza has been decrepit for nearly 20 years now.
The Barnes & Noble was our community space. You could scarcely go in it and not see someone you knew. Or if you were going there to work or meet a friend, you had to pray for a space to sit since everyone else was there, too. Lots of wheeling and dealing, coffee sipping, book writing, and studying for exams, story time for children, book signings, and even dates took place in that store. And yes, people bought books, too. And in that mix, nurturing her love of books while helping other people feed theirs? That’s where momma wanted to be.
But now she and it are both gone.