Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interesting Lives Enriched by Books

Bonnie Wyler is the Outreach/Literacy Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Since 1947, the Outreach Department of the Morrill Memorial Library has been delivering library materials to residents of Norwood who can’t come to the library because of special needs, illness or disability. One of the greatest pleasures of being an Outreach Librarian has been getting to know the many people who use the program and finding out about their lives. I’d like to tell you about two of our patrons whose experiences not only show us how important reading can be in an older person’s life, but whose lives themselves give us an interesting glimpse into the past.

Edna is 101. You may have read about her life in the May 27th Norwood Transcript article describing the Norwood Senior Center’s birthday party for those over 90. Born in England, Edna came to the U.S. in 1911 at 22 months of age. Her family is Jewish and she told me that her father who was from Edinburgh was bar mitzvahed in a kilt!

Edna recalls that times were very different then. In her entire childhood, she had only one doll. She grew up in the South End and remembers the ice man bringing blocks of ice to her house. Edna wasn’t a reader growing up, largely because there was no neighborhood library and books were expensive. As she got older, she would walk to the Boston Public Library whenever she needed to look up information for school. After graduating from high school, Edna did office work before marrying her husband Phillip. Shortly after she learned to drive the family Ford, she recalls coming to an intersection at the same time as a policeman on horseback, who reprimanded her by saying, “Don’t you know, horses have the right of way!”

Edna and her husband raised their daughter in West Roxbury before moving to Norwood in 1978. Reading was not a priority during the busy years of childrearing, or even later on when Edna was active in many clubs and organizations. During this period of her life, Edna and her husband traveled in the United States, though never abroad. Edna says that she became a reader by necessity in her 70’s because she needed something to occupy her mind as she got older. Now she loves to read books set in foreign countries – China, the Middle East, Afganistan – places she never traveled to, but can now visit via the books she reads. Even at 101, Edna still lives independently, cooks for herself, and maintains a lively interest in what’s going on in the world.

Another Outreach patron Grace, aged 82, has always loved to read. The youngest of nine siblings, Grace’s first language was French, which her parents spoke at home. But by the time she started school, she spoke both French and English. Grace attended Catholic schools in Salem where she grew up, and remembers that the nuns did not approve of her selection of books. She liked Dickens and Dumas, while they wanted her to read books about the saints or other religious topics. Her favorite book when she was young was The Count of Monte Cristo. Money was scarce because it was the depression and her mother told her not to spend money on books because she could always get them at the neighborhood library. She bought the book she wanted anyway. When she got in trouble with her mother, Grace said, “I know you will eventually stop being angry, and I will still have the book.” One of 19 students in her graduating class, Grace worked for Sylvania after high school and met her future husband at a dance. He was a science teacher in Westwood. They got married, moved to Norwood and had two daughters. There wasn’t much time to read when the children were growing up, although Grace did a lot of sewing, knitting and crocheting.

Grace has very definite tastes in books. She doesn’t like romance, war stories, science fiction or westerns. She loves mysteries, crime novels and “who dunnits.” . Grace reads so extensively in her favorite genres that she has devised a special system. She makes a very small squiggle on the back inside cover of every paperback she borrows from the library so she can remember which ones she has read. Grace says that books can take you everywhere and make you forget you’re alone. You can visit Paris, Istanbul, or anywhere in the world. Grace tells me she’d “go crazy with boredom” without books to read. Maybe the nuns from her early schooling had some influence after all because now her favorite reading is the Bible and books about faith, and she starts every day with devotional reading.

Edna and Grace are representative of the many people served by the Outreach Department, each of whom has a unique and interesting life story. They show us that it doesn’t matter when in your life you become a reader – it could be when you were a child or much later in life – and that books can play an essential role in keeping life stimulating and connecting you to the larger world. You probably know people like Edna and Grace who love to read and would enjoy having an Outreach volunteer bring them books and stop for a visit each month. We hope you will help us find these people so that they can enjoy the pleasures of reading. You can reach the Outreach Department by calling
781-769-0200, ext. 228.