When I was a kid I wanted to know everything. My mother likes to tell the story that my first word at 6 months was 2 words, "What's that?" and I have never stopped talking since.
My curiosity had no limit but growing up in a small fishing community with little going on and little resources for learning, I figured out quickly there were a lot of dead ends.
It was never completely clear to me if my parents had the philosophy that "You should learn everything on your own if you are going to learn at all" or if they just wanted me to stop bugging them with strings of complicated questions. I'd like to believe it was both.
Learning to read needless to say was fun and exciting for me. I recall watching reading rainbow and getting excited about anything that involved stories or facts. We didn't always have cable though or even a color TV, so BOOKS were the juiciest most succulent fruit I could get my hands on. Going to the school library was an exciting treat for me. I can have answers! Finally!!! But there was a limitation EVEN IN SCHOOL to my learning.
Every 2 weeks or so our class would have library time and we would get to pick out 2 books to read at a time. I had been taught to appreciate what I had and not to be greedy, selfish or feel entitled to more of anything but this was absurd to me. For a few years I managed to cope with this limitation by reading books my dad had lying around the house.
The problem with that was that my dad's collection was entirely consistent of Stephen King books or western cowboy novels. NOT books for children. As interesting as these books were, I had more of a taste for true stories and non-fiction. Although reading the drawing of the 3-Dark tower 2 by Stephen King at the age of 10 was educational about sociopaths, gunslingers, drug smugglers, split personalities and addicts.. It certainly should never have been a book a 10 year old is subjected to understanding.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy which involved gangs and scalping natives was a pretty intense read for me at age 11, a bit different from the Goosebumps books my classmates were trading back and forth and I did appreciate these as well written stories but I wanted to know more about the world and the nature of things. My biggest question that haunted me and I am sure many children about everything was "But WHY".
SO I DEVELOPED A PLAN:
At lunch time every day we were left unattended for 15 minutes at a time. Our teachers would take turns going back and forth from the staff room to check up on us in grades 4-6. I had my eye on the time and each day I would wait till the 2nd check up to sneak down the hallway, past the teachers staff room and into the library. There was little time to get in there, read and sneak back to the classroom before the teachers check up. I learned to find the exact book I wanted, hide under the librarians desk and speed read as many precious words as I could. This strategy worked for a very surprising amount of time. I didn't do it every day, I tried to be strategic and pay attention to which teachers were really attentive and which ones gave the once over glance for trouble, before quickly returning to the staff room. There seemed to be a schedule and I had a grip on it.
One particular teacher who's name I won't mention, loved food. She was always keeping snacks around and I knew how important lunch time was to her. Every 2nd time she was on duty for 2nd shift I would be sure to have a reading session. My friends were fairly oblivious. I didn't let them in on my secret or strategy and sometimes if they noticed I'd tell them I just really had to go to the bathroom.
It all worked, it all was worth it and I started to feel comfortable with my strategy. So comfortable that I snooped through the librarians drawer and would reward myself for a job well done, by helping myself to one of her mint candies she kept in a big container. In my whole life I cannot EVER recall stealing anything. I had been taught that it was wrong and have never been tempted to justify such a thing. To this day I feel that, that was probably why I got caught.
A DAY I WILL NEVER FORGET:
The teacher who liked food a lot was supposed to be on duty, I expected her for the second round so I quietly, like a NINJA snuck past the staff room door to the library, ran to the scholastic book
I had been reading about self training in memorization. I reached up and took 3 mints from the teachers desk that day thinking (She won't miss 3 mints out of 100!) Two pages in to the 3rd section, the library door creaked open. It was the most haunting sound and I almost thought it was a ghost, until I saw Mr. Coady.
A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER!
I sat trying not to breathe or make a sound. My heart was racing as I quietly sucked on the mint I heard him say: "Hello?" "I know you are in here!" I considered that he thought he might be talking to a ghost because the room was empty. He couldn't see me but I could see him standing tall with his hands clasped behind his back. Through the tiny gap of wood in the desk, I thought I could see him smelling the air. His nostrils were flaring. Could he smell the mint? No. There's NO WAY… "You can come out or I can find you." He said. But he seemed not to even be know which direction to send his comment. A minute passed that seemed like an eternity. I swallowed the mint in a guilty gulp and came out from under the desk to surrender. "What are you doing in here all by yourself?" he said. "I, I just came in to read." I replied nervously. "Come on I'm taking you to the office." he said and
I willingly went along.
I was not the kind of kid who got sent to the principal very often and when I got there he was quite surprised to see me. He sat across from me and in the sweetest tone asked me to explain exactly why I was found under the librarians desk, when I knew that I was supposed to stay in the classroom. I told him I was there because I wanted to read a book. He was confused. I explained that I really liked to read and two books was not enough at a time. He started to write notes down and asked me more questions. "How many books would you like to take out?" He asked. "As many as I want! maybe 6?". "Do you think this is a problem for everyone, the two book limit?". I said "Well sir I don't know but I have been sneaking in to read more for a while. It's not fair really, I just wanna read and now I'm in the principals office because I'm in trouble for it." I felt defensive and he sensed that I was quite upset. "Alright well, I would like you to go back to class and I'll think about what we will do."
I went home that day scared that he had called my parents and told them I'd gotten in trouble but they did not seem to have a clue. The next day I went to school and was called to the office first thing
in the morning. I walked down the hallway with my little heart beating out of my chest. My principal was waiting with a smile. When I sat down he told me that he had good news. He had talked to all of the teachers and made it known that I was given an exception. I COULD TAKE OUT AS MANY BOOKS AS I WANTED!
I jumped out of my chair and loudly said "YESSS!!!". He motioned for me to sit and contain myself with a serious expression. "Now I want you to know that this is not something we would normally do but you brought it to our attention that some children have additional needs, so we will allow you to take out as many books as you want but you have to do it the proper way. You need to sign them out, so we know which ones you have."
That day was one of the most exciting days of my life.
FAST FORWARD TO NOW:
So today the Halifax Central Library opened up a block away from where I live. I was there to cut the ribbon with many other excited readers. They gave us safety scissors which made me feel like that child again. It has been a few months since the closest library was shut down for the move to this big, beautiful building, so my anticipation and excitement was overwhelming. I stayed up all night and was there an hour early. When the doors opened I knew EXACTLY how I was going to explore.
Among the thousands of people who thought the front door was the only entrance I had scoped out librarians going in and out from the side. I asked if that door would open after the ribbon was cut and found out it was. A countdown from 10 to 1, I positioned myself at the very far end of the ribbon, closest to the side door, where there was NO line up. I chopped a piece of ribbon off to use a a book mark and ran to the side door. I was the first of 100 of thousands, to pile in. I ran to the elevator went to the 5th floor and started on the roof. Looking out at downtown Halifax I could see my apartment and I felt on top of the world.
To come from a small town in Newfoundland all those years ago, having to sneak into the school library to read.. Now to be standing on a one of a kind, landmark structure of unlimited knowledge
feels like I won the lottery of learning.
BUT I WILL NEVER FORGET: Where I came from. I will always have gratitude for the wealth of knowledge I have access to. AND I will never steal another mint from a librarian.