The Library Reopens

The Library Reopens July 22, 2020


We went to the library and Aldi.

How many times have I taken Rosie to the library and Aldi?

I took her as an infant, in her carseat, when someone I know from the university drove. I hadn’t yet figured out the small, limited bus routes in Steubenville, so it was the first time I’d gone to a non-university library in years. It was a little piece of normalcy in a world of ugliness. I set her down for tummy time on the children’s section rug.

For me, the library was a safe place to have a good cry, when we were so poor that our apartment wasn’t safe at all, and I had nowhere to go and a bad case of post-partum depression that lingered far too long and mingled with my PTSD.

When Rosie was a toddler I dared to take her on the bus. Some of the seats have a carseat strap embedded in the cushions behind the regular seat. She was unused to traveling in a vehicle at all, back then; she kept looking out the window and then up at me in absolute astonishment at every start and stop: “Bus? Bus! Bus! Bus!” and when she got to the library, it might as well have been a carnival. There were toy cars to play with on a table decorated to look like a city map. There were board books she was allowed to put into stacks. There were coloring sheets to scribble on.

We got into a habit of getting up early one morning a week and walking to the bus stop to go to the library for “Tot Time:” a mini preschool session for the littlest children. She’d play with the toy cars until Miss Misty the children’s librarian rang her bell; then she’d toddle to the multipurpose room to get a sticker and a name tag. She sat on my lap listening to picture books, then they played a game involving colors and a flannel board, and then they sang their ABC’s and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and did a very simple craft. Then we’d check out library books for the week. After that, we would always walk across the street to shop at Aldi, the cheap and efficient discount grocery store, with our EBT card and then drag the heavy grocery bags home on the bus.

This was a routine Rosie knew very well; she called it “tah time.” She’d ask me “Library Yaldi, Mommy?” when she wanted to get out of the house. When it was sunny she’d ask to go to the pool or the park: “Bool? Pock?” and when it was cloudy or cold, she’d ask for the Library and Aldi. I don’t think she thought they were two different establishments, but two different amusements at the same trip.

Aldi is one of those stores where you pay a quarter to use a cart and you have to bag your own groceries. It keeps the prices down, so I can’t complain. I would give Rosie a picture book from the stack I’d just gotten at the library, and she’d browse through it in her seat in the cart as I shopped; then I’d set Rosie on the bagging table while I worked and give her a marshmallow or a strawberry for each hand.

One day, she got too big for the cart. I had to teach her to walk along behind me. And then she wanted chapter books to be read to instead of stacking board books. She started reading the easy readers for our homeschooling herself, word by word. And then she asked for chocolate bars at Aldi instead of a marshmallow for each hand, and now my baby is eight years old.

She is a bit ahead in math, an expert in PE and years ahead in science, but a year behind on her reading skills. I wanted to get her a tutor to meet with at the library and catch up, but then the library shut down. The schools shut down. Rosie’s martial arts and tumbling lessons shut down. The whole world shut down for the COVID-19 emergency, and then Americans began to die. They died in agony, as they had in every other country. But somehow we were surprised, as if death and suffering, plagues and pandemics were things that happened in other places, not here. And I couldn’t take Rosie to the library, and I didn’t dare take her shopping at Aldi, for fear of the virus. She couldn’t go to the park and there is no pool this year. She stayed at home.

The libraries just opened back up this month, with a lot of new safety protocols. And I know the danger in Jefferson County is only rising, so I’ve kept Rosie home most often. But yesterday, for old time’s sake, I took Rosie to the library and Aldi. It was her first time running errands with me in about a month.

I wore a plain white cloth mask, and Rosie wore a mask sprinkled with colorful dinosaurs. When we get the tax return, we’re going to get her a Star Wars mask which she’ll like better. She detests that mask and calls it a “suffocate cover,” but she wears it obediently.

We turned in our months-old books in the foyer, instead of at the book drop. The masked librarian cheerfully explained that they would be quarantined for three days, then reshelved. We sanitized our hands and went in.

The aisles between the shelves were marked with arrows for social distancing. There was a plastic shower curtain stapled over the checkout desk, with only a slot for the librarians shrouded behind to receive your card and scan your books. There were signs declaring a fifteen-minute limit at all the computers, and the children’s computers weren’t even there.

There were no coloring sheets or toys, not even any chairs to sit in.

It was like seeing a friend in the hospital, badly injured and bandaged after an accident but alive when you thought you’d lost them forever.

I nearly cried at the alien, wounded, sterile way the library looked. But I also nearly cried because I was home.

I picked up picture books and waved them at Rosie. “Do you remember this book? Do you remember this one? This was your favorite for awhile.” I got several for old time’s sake. Rosie still wants to be read to.

Rosie discovered that, in the months that the library had been closed, she’d really learned to read. She read the signs and book covers while I browsed for picture books on germs and immune systems for a homeschooling unit study. I picked out some more books to get her fully fluent and in simple chapter books by the time we start third grade or shortly after.

She picked out DVDs and a stack of comic books.

We checked out the books, took another squirt of hand sanitizer, thanked the masked librarians behind the plastic, and crossed the street to Aldi.

“I’m too old to hold your hand now, Mommy,” said Rose, carefully looking both ways.

The aisles at the store are marked with arrows. There’s a sign requiring masks and another requesting “only one person per cart,” so Rosie jokingly ran a few paces ahead and said “I have to stay away from the cart so I don’t get arrested.” We don’t qualify for EBT anymore, but we’re still on a budget, so I kept a running tally while she helped me pick out groceries. I bought her a bar of that sweet Aldi chocolate that Europeans think is cheap and Americans think is special.

She stood and read the grocery circular while I bagged our things.

On the bus, the driver was behind a protective sneeze glass and unmasked. She was talking to her phone: “Alexa, how many COVID-19 cases are in Jefferson County?”

The phone quoted her a number in the thousands, “In Jefferson County, Texas,” and we all shuddered. We’ve been warned Ohio could be the next Texas. Plenty of the people in Steubenville still think this is a hoax; someone on the bus was claiming just then that the hospitals get paid to report COVID cases and the numbers are all wrong. But I think, at this point, we all know what could happen– what’s going to happen, what’s happening now and might be deflected but probably not.

She asked again, “Alexa, how many cases of COVID-19 are in Jefferson County, OHIO?”

The answer was 159. It would be 162 an hour later, because they update the numbers once per day. 162 doesn’t sound like a lot, but this is a sparsely populated county, and we had just over half that before July. We’ve nearly doubled our cases in less than a month. We’ve gone from a Code Yellow emergency to Code Orange, and soon the whole state is expected to spin out of control.

Rosie pulled off her mask with a cry of relief when we got off the bus; we unpacked groceries. She put away the books and went to watch her DVDs with a snack of fresh fruit and Aldi chocolate.

I do not love this terrible valley.

I do not love Steubenville and Eastern Ohio, not at all.

I have prayed to escape this place a thousand times.

But just at that moment, all I wanted in the world was to have the Ohio Valley back to normal again.


Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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