Monday, April 13, 2009
I grew up in a town of great wealth -- wealth of bygone days.
The Rockefellers lived up on the hill on their country estate -- sprawling farmland that overlooked the Hudson River. Nelson Rockefeller had his sculpture garden hidden away and all the private Rockie homes were off limits but the family opened the grounds to joggers and bikers and horseback riders -- even though they were really the only ones ever on horseback.
John D. Rockefeller used to ride his horse down the hill into town I was told, and give out dimes to the townspeople in the early 1900s. The town was famous for being the place about which Washington Irving, another resident, wrote THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW -- the tale of the headless horseman who scared the poor itinerant teacher, Icabod Crane, by brandishing a false pumpkin head on a blazing steed. I always imagined John D. Rockefeller also haunting the town -- also on horseback -- hopefully doing good deeds -- or at least leaving little dimes on the pavement.
I spent my girlhood in Warner Library -- a grand Italianate library with pillars and palladian windows and high celings. The ornate bronze carved door, depicting Poseiden and the sea nymphs, was brought back from Italy. Although you could push it open or closed with just one finger because it was perfectly engineered, it probably weighed half a ton. Oil paintings of society ladies -- the Warners -- looked out over me as I sat in the wingback chairs reading Ranger Rick magazines or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. It was like sitting in someone's really fine library at home, but anyone could come in and pick up a book and read.
When I went back on my last visit to Tarrytown, I visited the library and said a little prayer to the ladies in the oil paintings and thanked them -- the mother and daughter-- for creating a sanctuary for me as a girl.
I would come in from school each afternoon. I'd walk down to the library and Carol B. Caro, the white-haired but young children's librarian, would greet me. She knew me by name. "What are you looking for today, Amy?" she would say in the most cheerful, but library quiet voice. She was always happy and knew everything about books. She wasn't very tall so a kid could see eye-to-eye with her.
She would lead me down aisles of open shelving in the Children's Reading Room and pull off Little Women, Robinson Crusoe, Wuthering Heights, A Wrinkle In Time, I don't recall all the titles and authors -- Judy Blume -- everything a girl could want to dive into. I don't know if Carol knew I wasn't very happy and didn't fit in. She didn't really chat much. Her job was to feed me books to occupy my mind and to divert it from sadness.
I see Carol all the time -- maybe once a year -- at big occasions -- usually at weddings. I think I have told her what she meant to me back then -- how she saved me by being caring and interested but never too close. She let me do the discovering, the reading, the returning, and she was always there -- constant as the proverbial Northern Star and ready to turn over another page.