By Joe Darby
Earlier this week we had to go to Alexandria so, as we usually do, we drove down La. 1 to La 120, which quickly connects with I-49. That route, as opposed to going all the way out Hwy. 6 to the “main” Natchitoches exit on the interstate, saves us a lot of time.
Anyway, parked right there on the side of the lot of the service station at La. 1 and La. 120, was a parish bookmobile. I was glad to see it. I don’t know if anybody was inside choosing some great books to read, but I hope so.
If you’ve read more than a couple of my columns, I’m sure you know that books are a major part of my life and I want to say that I always enjoy seeing another person with book in hand, as well. But seeing the bookmobile brought back some nice memories.
I would occasionally use the East Baton Rouge Parish bookmobile when I was a youngster. I enjoyed poring over the shelves in the back of the vehicle, but I always thought something like, “Well, this is fine, but there’s not a whole lot to choose from here.”
I mean, the problem was, with the need to satisfy all of its potential readers, the librarians had to fit the more popular books in the bookmobile. Best seller novels likely took up most of the room, as well as books on gardening, fishing and hunting, etc. There was not a lot of room left for books on space travel and the history of baseball, I can tell you.
But there was at the great old main library building downtown on Laurel Street. The building still exists, but it’s been many years since the library moved out to some more modern location. And when I walked into that classic old structure, I could find just about anything in the world that I wanted to read.
Space travel? Yes, you bet. There was one color=illustrated book that I checked out several times, because once was just not enough. It was written in the early 1950s and it had great artist renditions of what our space ships and space stations would look like. It turns out that the predictions were pretty far off the mark.
The space station shown was a giant wheeled structure that must have served as inspiration for the space station in the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They looked just alike. (I still can’t hear the Blue Danube without picturing the scene from the movie in which a spacecraft docks with the space station. If you saw it, you know what I mean).
Anyway, I would read the book and stare at the pictures for hours, imagining myself as an astronaut, until I knew every nook and cranny of the (cutaway illustrated) space vehicles. And even if I didn’t check that book out, I would sit down at a table in the library and look it over until Mother came to pick me up.
Then there were the books on baseball history. There was at least one book on the history of almost every Major League Baseball team. Of course, there were only 16 such teams at the time. And the histories were much shorter then, too. After all, the American League began in 1903, so we’re talking about a history of 50 or so seasons, not more than 100 as it would be now.
So I read all of those books, even the histories of the teams I didn’t like. I was a Yankee fan, so I didn’t like the Cleveland Indians or the Chicago White Sox, who were the Yanks’ biggest American League rivals in the 1950s. But I read about them because I was actually learning about the great players of all time, such as Indians pitcher Bob Feller or Shoeless Joe Jackson of the White Sox. It got so that I could name all of the World Series winners and losers. I didn’t go around spouting off with that knowledge, but it was indeed secure in my head.
Then there were the regular history books. I discovered a wonderful series of books on the history of World War I, written, I think, in the 1920s or early ’30s. Of course the ’20s and ’30s were already ancient history to this 10-year-old, but the photographs of the war were fascinating and I would sit down and look at them for hours.
It’s interesting to look back and realize that at that time I was only 35 years or so from the end of World War I, equivalent to about 1983 now. And 1983 doesn’t seem all that terribly long ago. Different perspectives on time can be intriguing.
But, I digress and my column has grown just about long enough. I’ve truly enjoyed sharing these memories with you. If you’re a book lover, you may have enjoyed reading this. If not, thanks for your patience in sticking with me so far. And may I suggest, next time you pass by our fine library building on Second Street, or see the bookmobile out and about — check ’em out.