Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond books: Connecting at the library January 3, 2023

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2022)

I MET HER AT BUCKHAM Memorial Library on the final day of 2022 in front of the “Lucky Day” shelves. The two-unit section—one for fiction, one for nonfiction—features newly-released titles immediately available to library patrons. No reserving or waiting, just the luck of finding a new book on the shelves.

As I browsed the fiction, I noticed her approach from the right, pushing a walker. I scooted a tad to the left, giving her more space. I wanted her to feel comfortable as we stood side-by-side.

I don’t recall which of us spoke first, but I think I did. I rarely remain silent in the closeness of strangers. And she was close.

(Photo credit: Goodreads)

“Have you read that book?” I asked, pointing to Three Sisters by Heather Morris. She hadn’t. But she’d read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, also by Morris. I hadn’t. We talked about the books briefly, about the difficulty of reading these fictional stories of concentration camp atrocities. Yet, we agreed reading them was important, perhaps even necessary. She directed me toward the fiction section, strongly suggesting I check out The Tattooist. Now. I’d already learned this woman beside me was opinionated and strong.

I felt her eyes following me to the fiction shelves. “Did you find it?” she asked upon my return. When I shook my head no, my new book-loving friend called out to the reference desk librarian to find the missing book for me. The computer showed the book was lost. He ordered it from another library.

In the meantime, I indulged this older book lover as she handed me two novels pulled from the “Lucky Day” fiction shelves—Joy Fielding’s The Housekeeper and B.A. Paris’ The Prisoner. “Have you read these?” she asked. I hadn’t and accepted her choices. Turns out she likes thrillers and mysteries as much as I do, even referencing Nancy Drew as the books which long ago sparked her interest in mysteries. Those teen mysteries did the same for me. Her recommendation of The Prisoner, a psychological thriller, proved an excellent read. I finished it in three days. She also recommended New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box. I had too many books already, so tucked that name into my memory.

A section of my poem selected for publication in “This Was 2020…” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Next I’ll move on to The Housekeeper, the other psychological suspense novel she chose for me, ironically with a character named Audrey. I told the book enthusiast that I am a writer and that since she selected two books for me, I wanted her to read an anthology that includes a poem I wrote. I struggled to remember the lengthy name of This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year, a collection of poems and short stories published by the Ramsey County Library. But I remembered enough for the reference librarian to find the book on his computer and then on the shelves. I thumbed through the pages until I found Funeral During a Pandemic. “That’s me, my poem,” I pointed. We conversed briefly about the difficulties of my father-in-law’s funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t tell her that my mom died in January 2022, at the height of omicron, in a time when most people were no longer masking and large funerals were allowed. I could have penned a sequel poem.

A Boomerang Bag available to patrons at Buckham Memorial Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Eventually we parted, me lugging a cloth Boomerang bag weighted by books, she shoving her walker with books inside a plastic bag. When I later aimed back toward the check out desk, she called out, “Can you mail this for me?” She thrust a bright yellow envelope toward my outstretched hand. I agreed to mail the get well card to her niece who’d fallen on the ice.

She left the library and I soon followed with my bag of books. She maneuvered beside a car parked in a handicap space. Even though offered assistance to wrangle her walker into a weathered white late 1980s K car, she refused. She had this. But she did express concern about navigating an icy patch of pavement leading to and next to her car. She feared falling and breaking bones, something that’s happened thrice already. I empathized, sharing that I’d also had a hip replacement and broken bones twice during falls. “We’re sisters,” I laughed. But I meant it. We share a broken bone history, a love of books and a habit of mailing greeting cards to those who are celebrating or grieving or in need of encouragement.

Some of the get well cards I received after a bone break. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

“I love that you’re sending a get well card to your niece,” I said, waving the yellow envelope. I like to send cards, too. I’ll be sure to mail this.”

She replied, “I’m old school. I don’t even have a computer.”

“I need one to do my work—to write.”

“I always wanted to be a writer,” she blurted.

“It’s not too late,” I encouraged. A look flashed across her face, albeit briefly. A flash of possibility.

I had one final question. “What’s your name?”

“Noreen.” (Or maybe it’s Norene; I didn’t ask for the spelling.)

I don’t recall our parting words. But it doesn’t matter. I’d made a new book-loving, opinionated friend who dreamed of becoming a writer. It was, indeed, my lucky day at the library.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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15 Responses to “Beyond books: Connecting at the library”

  1. beth Says:

    I absolutely love this chance encounter, from beginning to end. you never know where and when you will meet a kindred spirit, and in what form they will appear.

  2. What a lovely encounter, Audrey! 🙂

  3. Valerie Says:

    A budding friendship? It’s always fun to look at how friendships form, like we remembered recently how our friendship started…:-)

  4. Best kind of strangers to meet 🙂 Mister states to me every once in a while that I must have a magnet because people tend to gravitate towards me and just start talking (sometimes I start the convo too). Cats and dogs tend to do this too – one guy recently asked me if I had snacks because his dog usually does not approach people and want to be near them. I have a touch I guess. I have both of Morris’ books on my Kindle ready to read (hard subject, however; I learn from those hard subjects too). Happy Connecting, Happy Reading, Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • Then you and I are alike. I suspect you are a good listener and people pick up on that. Randy always tells me I can make anyone cry (in a good way). He’s right, that happens often as people open up to me about their struggles.

  5. Norma Says:

    I loved reading about your encounter at the library. It sounds like something I would do. However, since I have difficulty reading anymore, it would have to be somewhere other than a library. I really envy you for all the books you read. My eyes and I no longer are very good friends.

    • Norma, I could picture you engaging like I did with Noreen. I’m sorry your eyesight is failing. Even I am beginning to notice the effects of aging on my eyes. They sometimes cross and my vision is cloudier (cataracts) and, yes, it’s frustrating.

  6. Best kind of encounter for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Karen Ginter Says:

    Faribault is my library too. I am often in front of the lucky day shelves. Really enjoyed your story. I feel we are so blessed with this library we have in Faribault! It is truly a community gem.


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