Never Underestimate the Power of a Librarian

A regular ritual when I visit my father in Los Angeles, is to go to my much beloved Huntington Library. This week in a quest to organize my life, I reshelved some of my most precious books. Two books my Dad bought me on our most recent trek to The Huntington Library make the cut as precious. Before they went back on the shelf, I sat down and reread them. Then phoned my father.

Fond Memories of The Huntington Library

My parents were divorced when I was very young.  At five, I started to join my sister on airplane trips down to California from Vancouver, B.C. every summer.  Trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Sunday morning rounds to the hospital to see Dad’s patients before church, and visits to the Huntington Library became favourite rituals.  I liked trips to the Huntington Library because my stepmother would buy me new dress-up outfits to wear for the outings.  As a very little girl, I gravitated to the two paintings of the prints that my mother had bought with white French provincial frames to match my bedroom suite.   I called them “Pinkie” and “Bluey”.  The prints of the famous paintings, Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence, and The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough were positioned over our beds in the room I shared with my sister in Vancouver.  I got Pinkie over my bed.  The paintings were also displayed in the same room in The Huntington Library.  I assumed the artist was the same and that the kids were friends.  I wanted a dress like Pinkie’s and I liked the shiny blue outfit “Bluey” was wearing. 

When I was 8 years old, one of my Dad’s patients, Lyle H. Wright, was grateful to my father for saving his life.  However, post brain surgery, he was no longer able to manage the altitude of 7500 feet above sea level and trips to his precious cabin.   We became the proud owners of our Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Lyle left all his books.  Cabin time lent itself to reading along with blackjack, hiking and fishing. 

As I got older, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and The Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum captivated more of my interest on trips to the Huntington Library. I found it amazing that there was a time when books were written, decorated by hand and printed on animal skins. I was amazed that the little metal squares needed to be placed individually in the printing press. I was part of the modern world with the typewriter. My mother’s claim to fame was that she was a private and confidential secretary who could type over 90 words per minute. The dimly lit room in the separate building that houses these literary treasures creates reverent attitude. Or am I simply living out my life as a slave to literacy?

Huntington Library Treasures

It wasn’t until I talked to my father the other day, that I understood why he wanted to leave the book collection in the cabin untouched. Lyle was a reputed librarian at the Huntington Library who had amassed the significant collection of American fiction. Who knew? After our phone call I followed the process for so many of us living in the COVID-19 era. I logged into my Amazon account and made my desperately required purchase. Another piece of the puzzle will arrive on Sunday.

AMERICAN FICTION, 1876-1900 (AMERICAN FICTION) BY LYLE H. WRIGHT PUBLISHED IN SAN MARINO: HUNTINGTON LIBRARY PRESS, JANUARY 1, 1978; ISBN-13: 978-0873280426. THE FIRST TWO EDITIONS WERE PRINTED IN 1965 AND 1969.

In the meantime, I am feeling infinitely indebted to who I remember as a gentle, old man with white hair, a very big moustache, and a kind smile. Someone who liked me. It was in fact Lyle who cultivated my love for a good murder mystery.  I had thought it was Jessica Fletcher on Sunday nights.  It was Lyle who provided the opportunity for my Dad to reach for the Edgar Allan Poe collection and terrify me with his suspenseful rendition of “The Pit and the Pendulum”.  It was Lyle who fed my quest for social justice when he put Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning within my grasp for repeated readings over the years.  Never underestimate the power of a librarian, even long after death.  Thank you, Lyle.  I just wish I could to talk to you about books!

A Pandemic Possibility of Courage and New Growth

My Apple watch buzzed on my wrist and I looked down.  Premier John Horgan announces kids back in school on June 1st.  Before I have a chance to react, my Apple watch buzzes again.  The breathe icon pops up on my watch reminding me.  In through your nose.  Out through your mouth.  If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be ready to pivot.  Our only constant in this time, is that things will change.  The trick is finding a way to navigate the change in the midst of big emotion all around.

I jumped out of bed on Saturday morning on high alert.  Things to be done.  What deadlines had I missed?  What was absolutely essential to accomplish before 8 am?  The forecast was for rain but no rain yet.  Every Vancouverite can appreciate the pressure to optimize this opportunity.  It was now late enough to rally my husband and go for a walk.

Walking the seawall before the crowds descend never gets old.  The constancy of the waves and the mountains. Breathing in the sea air.  Stopping to notice.  The cherry blossoms are done.  The dogwoods are in full glory. The realization that  poppies come in many colours.  More people staying home, have resulted in a new boldness from our birds.  The Canadian geese with their many babies don’t even bother to get out of the way.  Their honk is louder and closer.  The blue herons pause longer before even looking in your direction.  The crows fly closer to your head.   Only the seagulls are put out with the reduced human consumption of fish and chips which directly impacts their diet.

On the route back home on the rough stone of the seawall, between Second Beach and English Bay, a beautiful array of carved serpentine stones.  The Metis artist, Jock Langlois, has taken shelter under a beach bush, because he too could smell the approaching rain.  Jock left his job in the corporate world many years ago to become a street artist.  He embraced the power of desire, faith and action to reveal the beautiful messages hidden in stone.  The image of the bear jumped out to me first.  For my husband it was the eagle.  Then the most obvious image on this overcast day, the raindrop.  The eagle messenger.  The bear of courage.  The raindrop of new growth.   All rolled up in one inspirational piece of art.

Inspiration is just like learning.  You need to be ready to identify it.  Ready to receive it.  Ready to learn from it.  Jock Langlois was able to hand me a message of courage and the possibility of  new growth.  Thanks to the teaching of my mother, emergency cash was tucked ready between my phone and it’s case.

There is so much change and fear wrapped around the COVID-19 times.   How do we step forward with courage and look for the learning that will help us to grow as individuals and communities?  The pause to reflect on what will feed inspiration and innovation.  The willingness to embrace possibilities is what will feed the community.  We will change as a result of this global pandemic.  Walking in fear tends to result in stagnancy or ugliness.  Being courageous and stepping forward together as problem solvers promises new learning and the possibility of better pathways in our future.

Thanks, Jock.  I’m glad our pathways crossed yesterday.  I am happy to have your art as a reminder of the incredible beauty in our midst and the enduring message of courage for new growth.  Check out his story and his art.

Metis man discusses life after quitting job to carve