Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On the shelf

In 1972 I was a second grader at Taylor Parks Elementary School and already, my greatest gift had been discovered. Reading. I was, and am, a fabulous reader. The year before I had been introduced to the most amazing place in the world, the library. By the second grade, I had already read already (that just sounded fun, sorry), all of the grade-appropriate books in the Taylor Parks Elementary School Library. The librarian, Mrs. Oliver, did a wonderful thing. One day, when my class went to the library on our weekly visit and she noticed me checking out books I had already read, she took me by the hand and led me down an aisle I hadn't been down before.
The chapter books. Chapter Books. Big kid books.
Oh baby! Mrs. Oliver gave me special permission to go down any aisle in the library I wanted and check out any book I wanted. And as many as I wanted!
Oh baby!
I remember the smell of the library, the feel of the blue carpeting and the beautiful shelf after shelf of books. My gift was even greater than I had realized. With my new clearance to get more books, I would have enough books to take me through all those recesses when I usually hung out under a tree with my socially awkward self praying for a thunderstorm to keep us inside.
Mrs. Oliver was a lunch lady when I was in first grade and when we came back after summer break, she was the librarian and the library had been moved from the tiny room on the first floor with only three walls of shelves and one round table to a former classroom on the second floor with rows and rows of shelves and four round tables and ferns hanging from macrame hangers in the windows. Oh, and some bean bags too! Mrs. Oliver was tall (at least from my perspective) and slim and had dark hair with white streaks. She wore blue eye shadow and pink lipstick and pink frosty fingernail polish. She didn't dress up quite as fancy as my teaches. She usually wore polyester pants and a coordinating cotton top and a gold chain around her neck. Mrs. Oliver. I don't remember particularly loving her. I do remember one time another lady tried to shoo me back to the little kid books and Mrs. Oliver came over and told her I was a gifted reader and I had already read most of the books in the library. I think maybe I did love Mrs. Oliver, now that I think about it.
Obviously Mrs. Oliver was not a particularly educated woman, having just been promoted from lunch lady the year prior. Keep in mind, she was the lady who took the lunch money so she was moving quickly up the ladder. She wasn't a teacher. And when she took my lunch money in the first grade, she wasn't even particularly nice. But somehow she noticed me and she took the interest in me to introduce a world which continues to be precious. Maybe Mrs. Oliver was a reader herself and recognized a kindred spirit. Maybe the lunch lady that didn't seem particularly nice was really another socially awkward bookworm like me. In my imagination I see her opening a door and inviting me into a huge and shining place...the big kid books.
The first big kid book I read was about Louis Braille. Wow. Now that kid was something else. Did you know he injured his eye with an awl? This was where the first spark of passion for what I might someday become was ignited. I wanted to be a special education teacher. That didn't work out quite the way I thought it would but it was the first step of the process of developing a fascination for those who are different, special, disabled. It grew into reading about Helen Keller that year. Good grief! That kid was something else too!
I read everything that didn't move including the shampoo bottles in the bathroom but I was drawn to nonfiction books about those people whose lives were not as easy and average as others and eventually, mental illness was among the disabilities I read about. My desire to be a special education teacher for visually impaired kids changed a little. I wanted to be a teacher for mentally ill kids. Well, that didn't quite work out either but today I am a psychiatric nurse so I don't think I went too far afield.
Mrs. Oliver paid attention and saw something in me. Something fine and good and worth nurturing. She gave me an unspoken permission to remain shy and awkward and keep my nose in a book.
I was a gifted reader. What is really true is that I have the gift of reading. I cannot sing or play an instrument or run a marathon but I can read. That might seem a pretty average skill but it's not the skill that is the gift. It is the joy of it.
I was thanking God for my job the other day and it came into my heart to thank him for the ability to become what I am. The intellectual skill to go to school and learn and have this blessed life. So much of it is not just because I am able to read, but because it is my gift.
I used to wish for different gifts, I used to not even realize that reading was a gift. I wanted to sing at church, I wanted to be athletic or beautiful or something...something. But I'm not those things. I am a reader.
And Mrs. Oliver opened the door to a joy that has yet to become mundane to me.
There is no one without a gift. Maybe we just need to see like Mrs. Oliver did and take the time to show each other the shelves we hadn't seen before...where pleasure and satisfaction and power and truth can be found. It doesn't have to be in a book for everyone, but it is out there in some form.
Find the shelf that holds your gift and when you find it, show others the way to theirs as well.


Diane said...

Oh dear Sara, you are beautiful in so many ways! I so enjoyed your post. There have been many wonderful people in my life who lifted me from ordinary to extraordinary just by noticing that I had something to say, something to give worth receiving. I pray I can and will be a Mrs. Oliver to all whom I meet.

Many hugs..........


Stacy said...

Your gift of reading has given you another gift....the gift of writing! I think in many ways a gifted reader becomes a great writer, and that you are!!

p.s. Another similarity to the PW that I thought of...you both have hound dogs! Was that planned?? lol!

Amber Land said...

Kaitlynne's great grandma's last name is Oliver and know she used to work at an elementary school in Taylor! Hmmmmm!

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

Lovely memory, of a very important person, in your young life. And in your whole life.

Did you ever get the chance to tell her and to thank her?

Gentle hugs...

Ginger said...

Thanks for your insight, Sara. How lovely of Mrs Oliver to give you that gift, for you to receive it so joyfully, for you to allow it to bring you such joy, and for you to pass it on.

Jada's Gigi said...

A tear is in my eye, dear sister! you truly have More than one gift!