By Mrs. Edith S. Johnson, Johnston County
“Mr. Stephenson,” Mama called to Daddy. “Do you remember that story in The Progressive Farmer Magazine that told of a place in Raleigh that would lend a box of books if people wanted to read? I wrote to them and this letter is the answer. They say we can keep the books for several weeks if we want to, and we can lend the books to anyone in our community who wants to read them.”
“They say they will send them on the train to Willow Spring. Could you go and get them one day next week?” she asked.
“Why, yes, I guess so,” he answered. “I’ve got the cotton and corn all planted and the cotton won’t be ready to chop yet. You reckon they could send it on a Friday? Then we’d have the weekend to look over the books.”
“That ought to be just right. I’ll write them and ask for it to be sent,” Mama replied.
“I do hope they’ll send some good books that I like to read as well as some for the girls. Claudia Lee just loves books on mythology and love stories. Of course, Edith wants fairy stories and make-believe stories. We need some books that have information about other things, too. I’d better write them tonight so they will have time to get the books ready.”
The light of the hanging Rayo lamp cast a rosy glow over us as we ate supper that night. Perhaps it cast a glow over our thoughts and conversation, too.
“Mama, will you please ask them to give us The Red Fairy Book and The Blue Fairy Book? I’ve read The Green Fairy Book and it was just wonderful!” I begged.
“A don’t see any reason why I can’t,” Mama said. “They may not have it but if they do, maybe they’ll include it.”
“Mama, do you reckon they’ll have English Orphans?” Sister asked. “I read a little of it one time at Grandmama’s house, and I cried and cried, it was so sad.”
Mama laughed. “I don’t know if we could stand you if you read through the whole book. You always act just like the main character in every book you read, and we don’t want to swim in our tears, you know.”
Anyway, she wrote a letter to the State Library Commission in Raleigh and made arrangements to have a Traveling Library sent to us. It would hold about 60 books and would look like a small trunk.
In a few days she received an answer, stating that the box of books would be sent to Willow Spring on the train and we could meet the train on Friday to get them.
Daddy and sister rode to Willow Spring on the wagon pulled by Mag and Kate, Daddy’s mules. Maybe even the mules felt the excitement, for they seemed to prance out of the yard as if they felt their importance.
Since Daddy knew just about everyone on the way to Willow Spring, he had to call a greeting to everyone who was close to the road. Sister said later that she felt like they would never make the trip because Daddy even stopped to talk a few times. Old friends or just acquaintances, it didn’t matter to Daddy, for he never seemed to meet a stranger.
At home, Mama and I waited. Of course, Uncle Dick, Uncle Jeff and Aunt Sue lived with us, too, but they didn’t care about reading like we did. It seemed to us that the afternoon would never pass. We knew it was seven miles the station and would take a long time to travel but we could hardly wait for them to get home, unlock the box, and let us enjoy its treasure.
They came at last. Daddy brought the box into the house and unlocked it. Wonderful! We had at our fingertips more precious books than we had ever seen in our house at one time. There were books of different kinds tucked away on the two shelves of each side.
“Here’s Lorna Doone,” Sister said excitedly. “And here’s Miss Billy, too! Oh, boy!”
Mama picked out one titled St. Elmo to read first. Daddy kept looking for one that told Bible stories or had something about farming or masonry.
I grabbed several easy books and began to look through them. I was fascinated and couldn’t seem to make up my find which one to read first. I liked Nelly’s Silver Mine but chose Fifty Famous Stories Retold to cherish and read first. It opened doors of knowledge and I read it through as quickly as I could, then read it through again.
My imagination was inspired by the idea of King Robert Bruce learning a lesson from watching a spider try to throw a line from one beam to another, failing six times but succeeding on the seventh try. Then, he went out and called his men to battle for the seventh time and won.
I held my breath as I read about brave William Tell as he aimed his bow and arrow to shoot an apple off his son’s head.
Androclus and the Lion gave me the shivers as I read about how Androclus pulled the thorn from the lion’s paw and so became friends. Then later the lion saved Androclus’ life, in return.
When I read the story The Bell of Atri, I choked with sympathy for the poor starved horse who nibbled leaves from the grapevine replacing the rope to the bell.
I shuddered with fear for the safety of Damocles as he looked toward the ceiling and saw a sharp sword over his head, hanging by a single horse hair.
As I go back in memory, I think my favorite story was Dick Whittington and the Cat because I loved my cats, and because it ended by, “they lived happily ever after.”
We were happy to share the wonderful books in our traveling library with any neighbors in the community. Many of them took advantage of the offer and read a number of books, but I think our family really enjoyed its contents most of all.
Sometimes after supper Daddy would read aloud to us. He read Hurlburts’ Bible Stories and some other books. He started to read us a book called Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, but he never finished it. He said it had too many bad words in it. I’ve always wondered what they were.
Mama and Sister read just about every book in the box, but they talked most about how they liked Marco, Dorothy Page and Pollyanna. Mama liked the last one so much that she named our next door neighbor’s new baby girl by that name.
I wasn’t old enough to enjoy love stories, but I read and re-read all the fair stories and the other books that were easy enough for me.
Our county Bookmobile is a modern version of taking books to readers, but even the great satisfaction of choosing a new set of fascinating books each month fails to reach the enchantment that covered us when we opened and enjoyed our first “traveling library.”
Mrs. Johnson's account was published in I Remember When: Reminiscences of 50 Years Ago in 1978 by the North Carolina Homemakers Association. Extension Homemakers 65 years or older wrote about things that had happened 50 or more years earlier. Contributors included:
Mrs. Ada H. Allison, Transylvania
Mrs. J.D. Barnes, Wayne County
Mrs. Snow Barron, Lincoln County
Mrs. Alma Bryant, Sampson County
Mrs. Helen G. Bullock, Nash County
Mrs. Armitee Carlton, Duplin County
Mrs. Cora Caudill, Duplin County
Mrs. Precyous H. Collins, Lincoln County
Mrs. James Dixon, Alamance County
Mrs. Gilbert English, Randolph County
Mrs. Horace Farlow, Randolph County
Mrs. Francis Friddle, Randolph County
Mrs. J.E. Gentry, Ashe County
Mrs. Theo E. Hammond, Columbus County
Miss Georgia Haswell, Stanly County
Mrs. Bertha Hodges, Wilkes County
Mrs. Lillian Hollofield, Mitchell County
Mrs. Sam Horton, Watauga County
Mrs. Nona M. Ingram, Rockingham County
Mrs. Elizabeth James, Wake County
Mrs. Roland L. Jones, Alleghany County
Mrs. Lucy Jones, Nash County
Mrs. Winifred H. Jones, Rowan County
Mrs. Essie M. Kellum, Anson County
Mrs. Katherine Kimrey, Stanly County
Mrs. W.R. King, Iredell County
Mrs. Amanda Sue Kiser, Swain County
Mrs. Emma S. Layton, Wake County
Mrs. Dorothy Long, Forsyth County
Mrs. R.A. Lowery, Sr., Iredell County
Mrs. T.W. Martin, Yadkin County
Mrs. Mildred McEwin, Mitchell County
Mrs. Aileen G. McGill, Scotland County
Mrs. Virginia McVickar, Rowan County
Mrs. Ina W. Moses, Chatham County
Mrs. Josephine Nunn, Forsyth County
Mrs. Gretna Osborne, Onslow County
Mrs. Herbert Osborn, Alleghany County
Mrs. Winnie Peele, Wayne County
Mrs. Mary Satterfield, Caswell County
Mrs. Herbert Sauls, Wake County
Mrs. Frank Savage, Pender County
Mrs. Kathleen M. Sheehan, Swain County
Mrs. Ruby Stallings, Nash County
Mrs. D.O. Thompson, Wayne County
Mrs. Columbus Turner, Sr., Lincoln County
Mrs. Annie Lee S. Wall, Anson County
Mrs. Effie Baynes Warren, Person County
Mrs. Jessie Williamson, Sampson County