The Halloween season holds a lot of unsettling experiences. Like the chilling costumes. Or the blood-curdling movies. Or the thought that Election Day is just a week away. (“NOOOO!!!”)
But I think Paddy Riordan’s story may be my favorite hair-raising exploit this year, or at least one that I can sympathize with. You see, Paddy walked into his Coventry library with a book that was … shall we say, slightly overdue?
As in 84 years.
That’s right. According to UPI, the copy of “Red Deer” by Richard Jefferies had been checked out since 1938. For perspective, Neville Chamberlain was still assuring Britain of “peace in our time,” Betty White was still a fresh-faced teenager and the Denver Broncos were still 22 years away from disappointing football fans across the Centennial State.
You hear tales like this every so often, usually resolved with a laugh and a minor fine/donation (in this case, a little over $21 based on 1930s daily fines). But they never fail to make me wince as I recognize a kindred soul.
You see, I’m a bit of a bibliophile – which is a little like saying that Usain Bolt liked to run a little. I read constantly. Voraciously. And since I married a big reader, our combined collections aren’t so much a mountain of books as they are a literary Front Range, running the gamut from ancient history to star-spanning science fiction.
Naturally, I often spent a lot of time at the library – or should I say the “other library”? – joining the happy crowd of browsers and borrowers. But a book-loving spirit is a dangerous thing to have in combination with an absent-minded head. Especially when there are so many books already serving as natural camouflage for the newcomers.
And so, I tended to spend about as much time “settling up” as I did checking out. I can’t claim that my overdue fees personally paid for the new carpet at the Longmont Library, but it wouldn’t surprise me much.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, if I make headlines 40 years from now by unearthing a forgotten Bill Bryson volume and taking it to the circulation desk, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And second, as much as these stories strike a little close to home, they’re also heartwarming in a way. After all, we learn about them in almost exactly the same way, time after time: the person or their descendant uncovers the lost volume and brings it in.
No one would know if they didn’t. It’s possible no one would care. Most libraries don’t have the budget to keep a cold case file with square-jawed investigators seeking the truth. (Although wouldn’t that make a great TV series?) After a book spends decades off the shelf, most would assume that it’s not coming back.
Which means that every time it does, it’s an act of conscience. Someone who remembers what’s owed and wants to do their part to make it right.
When you think about it, this is a great time of year to remember that.
I don’t mean Halloween this time (though if you decide you “owe” really good candy to the kids on your block, bless you). But as I said earlier, Election Day is about a week away. Veterans Day is just a few days after that. Taken together, it’s a time to remember what we owe as citizens in building a country for all of us, as well as what’s been paid by those who came before.
Again, it’s a debt owed in conscience. If someone skips their piece of it, few would know. But when more of us who remember and repay, it’s better for all of us.
That kind of commitment speaks volumes.