There are three public libraries in Alameda, the little California town where I live. They have boring official names -- the Main Branch, the Bay Farm Branch and the West End Branch -- but my family never uses them. Instead, we use the names my 6-year-old son gave them.
Big Library, Little Library and Couch Library.
Those are probably pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you need a little help: The Main Branch is big, the Bay Farm Branch is little and the West End Branch has a couch. (Actually, they all have couches. The one at the West End Branch is just more memorable than the others, for some reason.)
Maybe my son will learn the libraries’ real names one day. If he doesn’t, he’ll be carrying on a proud family tradition. Because my favorite library -- the one I’ll remember fondly to my dying day -- may as well have been called Wagon Library. It was in Evansville, Indiana, I haven’t set foot inside it in decades, and I have no idea what it was really called. But guess what it had inside. Go ahead -- guess!
That’s right. A wagon. A little topless Conestoga, as I remember it, smack dab in the middle of the children’s section. If you climbed up inside, you found that it was packed with picture books.
I read a lot of books in that wagon. And I discovered a lot more once I started roaming beyond it to the shelves nearby. I remember books about the Civil War and World War II and Star Trek and Saturday Night Live and Doonesbury and Little Orphan Annie and the old movies I loved so much because the local public television station was playing them all the time. (Thank you, WNIN!) I read my first Mad Magazine in that library. And I snuck my first peek at a sex manual there, too.
That’s quite a voyage of discovery to take in one place: going all the way from Curious George Learns the Alphabet to The Joy of Sex. And though my life’s journey continued, taking me far from Evansville, I’ll always cherish the memory of that magical place where the journey began—in a little wagon that didn’t even move.
Postscript: Thanks to Google (and the website of the Evansville Vandeburgh Public Library
), I now know I wasn’t dreaming that wagon. That's it up top, circa 1978 -- my heyday there. The place, by the way, was named the Oaklyn Branch Library, and it closed more than 10 years ago. It’ll always be the Wagon Library to me.