I love the public library. I have loved it as long as I can remember. I love the simple idea that one card (once paper, now a thin piece of plastic), freely given, allows me nearly unlimited access to more books than I will ever be able to read in my entire life. I love the way a library feels and the way a library smells and I love the people who work there. I even stepped into the twenty-first century with my library and I am crazy about the fact I can put books on hold, on line, pick them up at the library of my choice and even renew them from the comfort of my living room sofa. It is a brilliant, brilliant design.
I especially love Knoxville's public library. I can safely say, of the five different cities in which I've lived, Knoxville's is my favorite. Since we've been living in Knoxville again, I've made the best use of the library I can, using a borrowed library card (thank you Mom!) and the calendar of events. We've checked out dozens and dozens of different books for Dory already and even a Pecos Bill movie on VHS her Dad insisted she would love. We go, each week, to Baby Bookworms, the two year old and under story time. And this week- this week my library out did itself.
In a matter of incredible timing and divine coordination, we went to the downtown library for Baby Bookworms this past Wednesday. While I love our little group, at our local library, the downtown Bookworms puts on a show. The librarian played songs and did a puppet board story and led dancing and for the children she passed out shakers and musical instruments and even a cut-out paper star that Dory could take home. Matthew and I were both wide-eyed over the display. Afterwards we stepped across the hall into the actual children's library and discovered Santa, that day, was expected.
What a gift to give. Parents and children- under and over two's- piled into the children's library and waited for Santa. The librarians set out juice and cookies on a little table and a chair for him. The woman who led our Bookworms crew passed out special gingerbread men to all her students, and gave Dory special star-stamps on each of her hand. For the rest of the day, Dory would catch sight of these little designs on her skin and marvel over them. She turned her palms up and down, amazed, her expression the same delighted disbelief that her father and I reserve for those dear, tiny hands.
When Santa entered all the children became kind of quiet and breathy, unsure about this tall (and somewhat gangly) gentleman in the red coat, overwhelming the small, child-size chair. The librarian explained we were responsible for taking our own pictures. (Miracle of miracles, we had our digital camera in the diaper bag- don't tell me Someone's not watching over all of us...) She then said something along the lines of (and this sent me over the edge in the love-affair I have for my library): "We just ask everyone to remember: we have all the time in the world. If your child needs to warm up to Santa first, please take your time. We want everyone to have a good time, to ask Santa for what they want and to have good pictures to show for it."
And, as these things tend to go when there's no hurry or pressure, the line went like clock-work, the children were fairly calm and easy (no wild hysterical screaming as I've heard echoing around the mall), we waited hardly any time at all, and suddenly Dory, in this impromptu experience, met real-life Santa Claus. I introduced the two, asked her if she could sit with Santa for a moment, and, when she didn't disagree, set her on Santa's knee and then crouched next to them, just out of the shot. This lasted about five seconds, and, though the librarian waved her puppet above Dory's head and I whispered words of encouragement, and Matt called her name, Dory would have no more of Santa. But, being the adept family photographer he is, Matt, also sitting in a child-size chair, snapped one shot before Dory was back up, in our arms, and ready to go.
And this unexpected, unplanned photo, somehow the more wonderful for her and St. Nick's solemn expressions, is her first Santa picture.
Thank you, from the bottom of my little literary heart, Knox County Library.