By Proprietor Sherry Wood
I miss (and worry about) my 7-month-old granddaughter Eleanor, who lives in Brooklyn with her RN mom and IT guru dad.
But I also miss libraries, which closed in March when Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home order was issued.
I was smitten at 6 when I walked into a roomful of books and for the first time, felt truly at home. Even after a baby brother took a crayon to “Green Eggs and Ham,” leading to a lecture from the school librarian, I sought sanctuary in that place of neatly labeled shelves.
By the third grade I hit the nine-book-a-week checkout-limit, honing in on “921” — biography in the Dewey Decimal system. I still have a crush on Abraham Lincoln.
My Southern Baptist farming family did not support this habit. Curled up with a book, I was chided for being lazy and soon learned to read by moonlight (after all, Abe read by firelight).
By 11, I was inhaling Thomas Hardy, James Fenimore Cooper and Jane Austen. I had to re-read some of these books later in life to fully grasp their significance. But as a pre-teen I understood I was in the presence of greatness.
I fell in love with a “Yankee” and moved to New Hampshire at 23, becoming a confirmed British mystery addict at Portsmouth Public Library. The library was a daily destination when our kids came along.
In 1992, I discovered the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a 200-year-old nonprofit membership library and museum on Market Square. The smell of leather binding, parchment, beeswax, mold and the indefinable perfume of human wisdom confirmed that I had found a place of worship.
Like so many of our cultural institutions, its doors are now shuttered. The public health rationale is undeniable, but oh, what a loss. It was to the Athenaeum I headed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 40s, taking solace in the words of Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence who in the early 1800s brokered a truce between Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
If two deadly enemies can be reconciled, I reasoned, I can face cancer.
And so this library has been a source of strength, and the place to which I turn for comfort. Yes, the online archives are amazing, but oh, how I long for the conviviality of fellow knowledge-seekers, and the closest thing mortals can come to peace of mind.
I miss libraries.
This story originally was printed in the New Hampshire Sunday News, May 17, 2020, by Night Editor Sherry Wood.
Image: View of the Library Room by Illusions Photography, 2020.