In Full Appreciation for the Libraries of my Childhood
By Pat Wadley Blankenship, Milan High School Class of 1970
Park Avenue Elementary School library https://www.milanelementary.org/
The first library I remember was the school library at Park Avenue Elementary School in Milan, Tennessee, my hometown and childhood home. There are general memories….shelves and shelves of books, tables and chairs just my size so I could sit and read, a librarian, whose name I do not recall, being very helpful. But specifically, I was drawn to a classic set of biographies—The Childhoods of Famous Americans series—which were fictionalized and told as a narrative while staying true to the basic facts of the famous American’s life. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross, Clara Barton and many, many more. These stories were so engaging as to make me feel as if I were a part of the history. I learned facts about historical figures; I learned lessons of value in perseverance, integrity, industriousness, and intelligence. I read every book of this series that was available on the shelves of my school library and wanted more and more of them every week!
The Bookmobile! The Bookmobile!
The second library I remember was located in my neighborhood in the home of Ms. Bertie Riley. (Shout out to Teresa Riley Ayers!) Bertie put a small bookcase in her front door foyer and once a month or so, the Book Mobile would come to her house, pick up the old books and bring in new ones for the neighborhood kids to check out and read. It was THE highlight of the month! All us kids stopped our game playing and bike riding and jumping to run to Bertie’s house to watch expectantly while the book mobile driver made the switch! As soon as he was finished, we all ran to the front door and Bertie let us in! New books! Oh my goodness, let me get my hands on them! I loved the feel of the books, the smell of the books, the way a book carried me away into another world. We each grabbed our books and strolled away, thumbing through the pages and looking for a comfortable place to sit and read. Thank you Bertie for facilitating our neighborhood library!
The Mildred G. Fields Memorial Library http://cityofmilantn.com/city-departments/library
And then there was the third library: The Mildred G. Fields Memorial Library in Milan. My love for books created a passion for literature, so when I went to college, I majored in English and Education. My studies included American literature, British literature, prose and poetry. I read constantly!
But during the summers, when I was on summer break and living back at home and working for Kizer and Bonds, Attorneys, (shout out to W. Collins Bonds and the late John Fuqua Kizer, attorneys at law) I was also reading. I would choose an author for the summer and read everything I could get my hands on that he or she had written. Ernest Hemingway. William Faulkner. Stephen Crane. Edgar Allen Poe. Jane Austen. The Bronte sisters. Sylvia Plath. It was a mission to understand the authors, to have a fuller sense of their body of work. And that mission was carried out at the Mildred G. Fields Memorial Library in Milan. A trip to the library on a sunny afternoon after work was again the beginning of an adventure in reading that quickened my step!
I do not recall having books in my home as a child. It was a different time, and disposable income for shiny new books was scarce. But I remember the libraries of my childhood and the fabulous books in those libraries. And I remember too that every book I read motivated me to become an author myself. It took me many years to get down to actually publishing my first book, but today, my children’s picture book is in those libraries too! And I can draw a straight line in my life from the library at Park Avenue Elementary School to the publication of my first children’s story book. Thank you Libraries!
Happy National Library Week!