Born To Be Disappointed
by Nicole Freire
I am always on the verge on being disappointed. That's because I'm half Irish and full Democrat. My very first vote was cast for Dukakis. Remember him? I'm also the daughter of a public servant for the State of California, so I'm pretty sure it's all connected.
And if you haven't been living on a deserted island for the few years, you might have guessed that there are all sorts of things government-related for me to be disappointed about.
The first time I can remember my father being angry, really angry, scary angry, was on June 6, 1978, the day the infamous Proposition 13 was passed. As a public librarian, he was heartbroken that funding for public libraries was slated to be gutted.
This was also the summer that I destroyed his green bell pepper crop by eating all of them when they were sweet and tiny. I also pulled out the yellow stamens from every single calla lily in the huge border surrounding our backyard. That one made him weep, I think. I also took an entire bag of rice hulls - I think they were destined for compost - and "fed the chickens" by sprinkling them all over the backyard. We didn't actually have any chickens, but I'd been reading a lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder that summer and thought I was living on the prairie.
Anyway, back to libraries. They have always been my refuge and I hid successfully in them for years. And having a librarian for a father was a bonus. No one ever suggested that I put down the book I was reading and "play outside". Piles of books in various stages of reading were encouraged. Reading at the table while eating a bowl of Cheerios? Perfectly normal.
But buy a book? Purchase a book? From a bookstore? That was a definite "No". You supported your public library, even as libraries all over the state were losing funding for books and staff. And that mantra was repeated over and over through my life. Libraries were precious and rare commodities that never received the full funding and support that the citizens of California deserved.
I would just like to note for the record, however, that having a librarian for a father does not mean that I do not pay library fines. I rack them up and I pay them, just like everybody else.
One of the last things my father did about five or six years ago, before he retired as the City Librarian for the City of Santa Maria was to drive up to Sacramento (Hey kids! It's the State Capitol!), and deliver a four-inch stack of paperwork and grants for a new public library.
And a little over a year ago, my father came out of retirement (no, not like Brett Favre) and returned to work to put the finishing touches on the brand spanking new city library.
Here he is, in a tuxedo, at the dedication ceremony. Lots of citizens were there. He gave speeches, there was a color guard, a guitar was played,
we all said the pledge of allegiance and sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and there was a cornerstone laid. They gave my dad a plaque and my sister and my mom and I got a little teary eyed.
And then they opened the doors to the new library.
I had snuck up to the front to try and get a picture of the cornerstone and somehow made it into the front lobby of the new library right after the assembled dignitaries cut a big blue ribbon.
I turned around to face the doors and stood in the lobby for nearly 20 minutes, just watching people pour into the new library with gleeful expressions. People were so excited you would have thought they were giving away money wrapped in candy on a rollercoaster.
It was NOT disappointing. It was exhilarating. I have never seen a mob of public citizens rush through open doors with so much joy and hope and anticipation. They poured into the lobby, up the stairs, rode the new elevator, roamed the stacks, and oh, the children's library. It is beautiful. There are colorful little chairs and a mural with hidden objects and a giant tree! With light up insects!
There is a literacy room. There are study rooms. Computer labs. There are soaring ceilings and more windows than I could count. There are soft chairs and beautiful wood and decorative iron. A shop in the lobby is dedicated to the Friends of the Library, an organization that has raised money for new books when there was none to be found in the state budget. A theater. Public art. A café where you can buy coffee, holy cow, coffee in the library! Genius.
There is no way to be disappointed in a new public library. Not when you see stacks of ordinary people clutching stacks of books and waiting patiently in line to check them out, FOR FREE.
It will make you think that there just might be a little bit of hope in our government after all.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.