One of my earliest memories is walking with my mother as she pushed a stroller with my sister. Our destination was the Kensington Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. In addition to reading to me in my earliest years, my mother took me on frequent visits to the local library.
In the summer between fourth and fifth grade, I joined the Summer Reading Club at the branch. The goal was to read ten books in the summer and write ten book reports. That day, I was introduced to the children’s librarian, Marie Guertin, or Miss Marie as we called her. She had the softest voice and the gentlest smile. I credit Miss Marie with introducing me to a whole world of books outside the ones in my home.
Adventures of a Brownie, Carcajou, King Arthur, The Big Wheel, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, are only a few of the ones I remember and have found copies to add to my library. Unfortunately, the last is about to be shredded by Hollywood. Even the bits I have heard on TV tell me the story will be distorted beyond all recognition. Don’t even get me started on the casting.
Anyway, back to those earliest memories.
Each September, Miss Marie would come to my school and distribute the certificates for the students who had successfully completed the summer program. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for even one of those certificates to turn up!
A real schoolboy crush on Miss Marie developed, and I looked forward to my frequent visits to the library. Even when I went to high school, the branch was only one station before mine on the el, and I almost always stopped off for a visit. Miss Marie always welcomed me and asked about what I was reading. She told me about some of the books she was recommending to students those years.
Fast forward to about 1988. I was teaching a class on drama to a group of senior citizens at the Cottman Avenue Branch of the library. One day, I wandered into the children’s library, which was right next to my classroom. Seated at a desk was Miss Marie. I was stunned. Her hair was now white, but she still had that soft voice and smile. I chatted with her for a while about the old days, but alas, the class was ending, and I did not get back to Cottman Avenue after that chance encounter.
My family still lives in Philly, so on every one of my frequent visits, I made a mental note to stop and see if she was still there. I must have forgotten to press save, because I never made the trip.
Fast forward again to 2011. I was determined that my visit this time would include the branch to see if anyone knew anything about Miss Marie. One of the children’s librarians remembered her, and to my surprise, she thought she was still alive and living in a nursing home somewhere in Philadelphia. She promised to see if she could find out about her for me, so I left my cell number with a hope that I would hear from her.
So far, no call, but every time the phone rings, I anxiously look for a 215 area code. Stay tuned. I am not giving up on this one.