I recently spent six days in the hospital having brain surgery (one of the reasons the blog entries might be slow in coming). But while there three things brought the blog and some of the reasons I write it starkly to my mind.
The first was in the few minutes before my surgery began. While talking with one of the operating room nurses, we chatted, as you will, about with each other. Where are you from? What do you do?
When I mentioned my West Terre Haute book project, he said, “Oh, I have heard of West Terre Haute. My brother-in-law lives in the area and he has mentioned it. Says it is really awful place. He told me two jokes I probably should not repeat. But he asked me how you knew the tooth brush was invented in West Terre Haute? Because if had been invented anywhere else, it would be called a teeth brush. And, do you know why Jesus wasn’t born in West Terre Haute? They could not find three wise men or a virgin there.”
Those are jokes told about many places. I have heard Hoosiers say much the same about Kentucky. I am certain they are often said about many, many places, but it is indicative of what many feel about West Terre Haute. That is the place it occupies in much of the world familiar with it.
That very night as I could not sleep, despite morphine injections (I never sleep while in the hospital) I was able to have many conversation with an excellent, very caring nurse in the ICU. Again, we chatted. When we found that both of us had graduated from ISU she began to reminisce. At the mention of West T. she said she was warned never to go there. That it was a squalid little place.
The very next morning my wife posted a link on Facebook she knew would interest me. It was about the struggle to keep open the West Terre Haute branch of the Vigo County Public Library. Money is tight, some more cutbacks may have to be made. The library in West T. might just have to shut down.
That truly grieves me. First of all because it was “my library” growing up. From that tiny building I checked out my first books (The first three I remember borrowing were The Little Island, Henry Huggin’s Paper Route by Beverly Cleary, and Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary. Yes I was a precoseous and eclectic reader from an early age.)
But what is most crushing is the void, no the weeping chasm, that would be left should it close. I have spent time at the branch while researching my book. I have seen how important it is to the people of West Terre Haute. I saw patrons coming in to research the illnesses of family members, find government documents, or just keep up with the world. I have seen them come into the library for many reasons. I remember most a teenage girl.. She was thin, limp-haired, looking like so many different nourishments have been not fully sated. Like many she was wearing knock-off versions of Uggs, Abercrombie and Fitch, or Dooney & Burke. Those who dash to the computers and Wi-Fi they cannot afford at home, clutching the mouse like as if it were a lifeline or IV drip, reaching out into a world that might seem only in aspiration.
Now, I can do a little bit about the lives of that girl’s parents or grandparents. I can remember them with the book. At least try to make some understand why her town went from promise to near ruin. But we all must take a hand in keeping a library in that girl’s life, ensuring that in other fallen down towns both the young and old can continue to walk into the door of a library that opens up the world to them.