As a child, we had many little traditions. It was tradition to eat pasta on a Thursday night. Sundays, we ate at a hotel or restaurant. This kind of thing makes up the framework of my memories. If I had to choose a favourite tradition, it was the Friday night tradition.
Jim, my grandfather, not my real grandfather, mind... he was my step grandfather, but to me, he was... a hero. A true-blue Scotsman and one of the most generous people I've ever known. He taught me to 'drive'. For work, he had a combi and would allow me to stand between his feet and steer. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that today??? He taught me the joys of burning patterns in polystyrene with a soldering iron (till I discovered that my gran's nail varnish remover did the same trick). Oh, he taught me many things, but of all the treasures he gave me, it was Friday nights and the joy of reading.
Jim would finish work earlier than usual every Friday. He'd load me into the car and we'd head down to the Port Elizabeth public library. To me, as a child, the building was awe-inspiring. The main entrance was dominated by an enormous statue of Queen Victoria. Slightly off to one side was the door to the children's library. Next to that was the main entrance. Back then, the building to me was simply beautiful without me knowing why it was beautiful. Today, I can admire the warm tones of its structure and its elegant Elizabethan design. The library was built in 1835 and was first used as a courthouse. It was only used as a library in 1902. Today, it is home to more than 45 000 books.
My grandad would walk me to the front door of the children's library and my own personal paradise. Once in there, I would lose myself in tales of adventure, colour and fantasy. I learned to love books and love reading in that library. The children's library of my memory was bright and colourful and staffed with ladies who had, I'm sure, as great a fascination with the stories as I had, or so I imagined anyway. At 6pm, the children's library would close and I'd step out into reality for a second before being transported another world entirely.
I cannot even begin to describe the main library. I'm finding words fail me. Now you must remember, I haven't been there in many years, so if my memory isn't accurate, forgive me and tell me what it's really like. The main library room goes up and up and up for what seems like forever (talking of up and up and up from a 7 year old's perspective). Every time I stepped in there, I would tip my head back and look around at the rows upon rows of books, probably vowing I'd read them all one day. In moments of sheer adventure, I would climb the staircases to the narrow passages that lined the walls of books. The handrails were beautifully carved, the wood smooth and warm to my hands. I smelt the books. I still remember the smell of old paper, leather, slightly dusty... never musty. My sense of adventure might have taken me up those stairs, but I didn't dream of touching any of those books. My awe was almost of a religious nature. They were too much for me.
Back downstairs, I'd weave in and out of the passageways created by yet more bookshelves and on to the reading room. Here, the world changed again. I tiptoed up to where Jim was reading, my footsteps sounding loud in the silence. The hush was so loud, you could feel it, like a soft blanket around you. Old men would briefly look up from their newspapers, which were stacked on darkwood tents. I'd snuggle up to Jim while he finished his paper and gaze around the wood panels. It was a serious room.
I remember leaving the library and going up a side road to a parking area. My grandad would then take out a slab of chocolate, which he and I would share on the way home, completing the experience for me. Not a week went by without books and chocolate. I'm still a bookworm... any wonder chocolate comes wrapped in the same experience package. You know, from the time we left home to when we returned, we hardly said anything. I don't think words were really necessary.