By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
With the calendar poised to turn from July to August, most kids on the block had a common reaction: “Gulp!”
Summer holidays were half over. Days without curfews (or, for some of us, days with extended curfews) would be coming to an end soon. Too soon.
This was getting back to reality time.
If you were a member of the library’s summer reading club, you could be in trouble if it was the first of August and you had read only four or five of the 10 or 15 books you had committed to reading over the holidays.
This was something we signed up for every summer. It was a good incentive to get kids to pick up a book over the holidays and spend some time between the pages. And besides, there was always an acknowledgement of success at the end if you reached that goal and got a prize of one kind or another to go with it.
Being slick operators we re-read titles we had read before: books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Hardy Boys because you could get through them easily and more important – actually know what you were reading. That was one way to reach your target by deadline.
When you were really in a lurch and your back was against the wall because August had arrived and you were nowhere near your goal, you could borrow someone’s Classics Illustrated comics and read them instead of the real thing. That was bending the rules, I suppose, maybe it even was the “c” word – cheating – but at one time or another you had to do it, and we did it. Shhh! It was a well-kept secret. Or so we thought.
I still recall being quizzed one day by librarian Miss Jones about whether I was really reading the titles that were recorded on my chart – the library’s version, that is, or if I was getting around it by reading the comic book versions of the great stories and doing book reports based on them.
Word about these transgressions had leaked out (what more fitting place for “word” to leak than a library?) but apparently I was among the last to know. And so I was caught between a rock and a hard place, or perhaps more appropriately, between the library’s hard cover book and the Classics Illustrated comic book.
Back in the late 1950s, when this vignette takes place, this was serious stuff. My vivid imagination had me being reported to the library police and having, good grief, to surrender my library card to the long arm of the law. My overactive imagination had this scene playing out in front of me – Mom: “How many books did you sign out of the library today, Joey?” Me: “None.” Mom: “None? Why not?” Me: “Because they took my library card away.”
Needless to say, it never came to that, thanks to Miss Jones. She turned out to be understanding and forgiving. I was allowed to remain a member of the summer reading club, but had to give my word – my verbal word – that I would not stoop to such misdemeanours ever again. I gave her my word, my verbal word right then and there, on the spot. And now you have my word, right here and now, in writing. A classic tale from yesteryear.
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. It’s My Life, Sort Of, appears regularly on the blog.)