What's this?! A branch library in the Highlands???
... Charlie looks back to an earlier time ...
by Charles Coombs
Back when summer vacations seemed endless, I would ride my metallic green, Elgin
bicycle down to the Highlands library, my sanctuary from the heat and adolescent
The library was located between the Greenleaf and Rathburn grocery store and
Hills news shop. The Librarian Miss Brown would greet me as I stepped through
the door. Then after she got to know me she would point out new book arrivals
that she thought I might find interesting.
I would sit at the big oak reading table looking at The Saturday Evening Post,
Popular Mechanics, LOOK ... it was all there at your fingertips. There were two
of these tables, one in the adult section which was to the left and another in
the middle of the room next to the magazine and newspaper displays. Despite this
wealth of reading material, I many times would have the table all to myself.
Should I dare run my hand under the table I would inevitably brush an ancient
wad of double-bubble carefully hidden from the watchful eye of the head
librarian. I say watchful as any candy, tonic, or bubble blowing was clearly
frowned upon and we didn't even think about loud talking or rough housing. On
very warm days during the summer the librarian would open the back door which
led to a fire escape; the cross breeze from that back door and the screened
front doors would beg you to linger longer.
Late on Saturday afternoons, I would walk down to the Highlands, get a vanilla-
Coke at Yorks drugstore and cross the street to the library. The library had
large picture windows; inside on the wide window sills sat two big cork display
boards. I would check out the new Saturday Evening Post cover, secretly hoping
it was a Norman Rockwell one (his covers seemed to invite a careful study of the
detail), which the librarian with push pins would carefully mount on the cork
display board. Next to that, another display board, this one displaying dust
jackets of newly arrived books, fiction and non-fiction identified with small
hand written banners.
During the summer the library would hold a summer vacation reading contest,
joining the other display boards would be one with the names of those
participating, and a gold star added after each name for another book read. To
make sure we read the book, we were required to write a short book report, which the librarian would read just to make sure we actually read the book. At the end of the summer the gold stars were totaled up, and the individual with the most won. I won that contest one summer, 1961 as I recall.
In June of 1965, I graduated from Roosevelt Jr High, in the fall I would be a
freshman at Melrose High School. One day as I visited the library, checking out the
latest issue of "LOOK" magazine, the librarian came over and presented me with my
new adult library card. "Congratulations" she said, "Remember to study hard, your
freshman year is going to be quite an adventure." I thanked her. What I couldn't
have known then was how quickly those leisurely summer afternoons, at the Highlands
Library would become fond memories. The coming summers would be filled with part
time jobs, dating, new friends, getting my drivers license, and, of course, the
When I did go to the library, it was with friends and then just to hang
around and it was always the main Library downtown on Emerson St, because to be
honest that's where all the girls were. When I did go at night, it was usually to
meet a date, and we'd pretend to study, and after walking her home I would hope for
a quick kiss and maybe a hug. But the memories I will most cherish, are those warm
summer afternoons sitting at the big oak reading table, the breezes finding their
way through the library, rattling the daily newspapers as they hung on the paper
rack, the noise they made sounded like the sails of a boat as it made its way
through the water. A boat on a journey, a journey that I would be taking,but in
truth I was already on.
June 1, 2012