Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
Here’s a photo I swiped from my brother’s blog (Too Long in the Wind). This part of the Pawnee Rock fire station building was the city hall/library. Photo credit: Leon Unruh.
When I was a little kid, the best thing about my hometown library was, well, that it had books. But the second best thing was that it was right next door to my house. Next door!
Our property was adjacent to the fire station (which was pretty exciting in itself), and that brick fire station also housed the city hall where the library found a home.
Memories of that old Pawnee Rock library came to mind last month when I gave a reading from my book, “Flyover People,” at the Gridley Branch of the Coffey County Library. Janet Birk, the librarian at Gridley, and the residents who showed up for the event, offered warm, small-town hospitality. They were an attentive audience with interesting comments – and they brought homemade treats to enjoy later.
When I first stepped into Gridley’s library, my thought was that if I had had a library as nice as this one when I was a kid, I would’ve kept a sleeping bag stashed in a corner of that building. It would’ve been my home away from home. I would’ve been content with a one-person slumber party. Being surrounded by hundreds of unread books was my idea of heaven.
In the 1990s, Coffey County residents invested in themselves wisely; they built libraries. And the county seat of Burlington was not the only recipient. New library buildings were constructed in the communities of Waverly, Gridley, Lebo, LeRoy and New Strawn.
For a Kansas town of about 250 residents, Gridley has a fabulous resource with their library, which has 4,186 square feet. Compare that to the Pawnee Rock Library of my childhood which had, I don’t know, maybe 100 square feet if you counted the empty space between the two sets of bookshelves and the table where the librarian sat.
OK, it’s totally unfair to compare the libraries of these two small towns because times have changed so much since the ‘60s. I was happy with what I had. I loved that little Pawnee Rock Library so much.
I believe Pawnee Rock’s library was operated by volunteers and was only open one or two days a week. I didn’t have to go far to get there, of course. I simply had to walk past the two huge garage doors (labeled Fire Dept. No. 1 and Fire Dept. No. 2) where the fire engines and the tanker truck spent their days and nights. At least one window on the first garage door was always broken out and the smell of rubber tires and cold cement slipped out that window as I walked past.
Inside the library, the décor was rather stark. OK, there was no décor. There were just several tables and folding chairs for the city commission meetings. Next to the filing cabinet in the back of the room was a doorway which opened to a one-cell jail.
The floor was gray concrete and the bookcases stood in the front corner of the room. The library had perhaps 200 books in the permanent collection, and maybe 100 rotating books that were changed out twice a month by the Central Kansas Library System headquartered in Great Bend.
From my house next door, I watched for the CKLS van to pull up in front of the fire station. As the driver carted out the old rotating books and hauled in replacements, I circled the van on my bicycle, anxious for the moment I could pounce on the new mystery books.
When the van drove off, I flipped down my kickstand, opened the screen door to the city hall, then kneeled in front of the bookshelves.
Our library wasn’t much by today’s standards, but back then, we didn’t expect so much. We were simply happy to have what we had. And now, as an adult, I’m immensely grateful to those in the Pawnee Rock community who made the library happen.
But, yeah, I would have been crazy about a library like Gridley’s. If we’d have had that in Pawnee Rock, I surely would have rolled out my sleeping bag on the carpeted floor, inhaled the fragrance of yellowing pages, and let mysteries drive my dreams.
Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh