I am re-watching You’ve Got Mail. Close to a perfect film: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, witty dialogue, and books. Early on in the film, Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen, talks about what her mother did when she started her bookstore. That she wasn’t just helping children find books, but she was helping to shape who they would become, because the books we read as children have a direct effect on the kind of people we become.
I started thinking about the people who helped me find the books that shaped who I have become. And wishing that I had a way to thank them, to tell them what a profound impact they made on my life.
Teresa Johnson was one of the librarians at the Sedro Woolley Public Library. My sisters and I spent hours and hours there. This was back in the day when we could holler to Mom, “heading to the library,” hop on our bikes and go. Teresa was a personal friend of the family, and so we had “behind the counter” privileges: we got to stamp books and cards (this was before the computerized age, of course) and help re-shelve books. We also got first look at the new books, before they even hit the shelves! I have Teresa to thank for many of my favorite books, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Trixie Belden series, and Anne of Green Gables. There was also this one book from the non-fiction section, but I can’t remember the title. It was a book about a rich man who built a beautiful dollhouse mansion – for his wife or daughters, maybe? The pictures of the dollhouse’s opulent rooms, with absolutely exquisite details – they must have been falling apart by the time my sisters and I were too old to check it out anymore. Our last name, Shannon, nearly filled the check-out card. (Anyone remember the book?)
Teresa didn’t just open my mind to the world of books, however. When my parents went away for a weekend, Teresa would come stay with us, and she would bring her dress-up trunk. A trunk full of old prom and bridesmaid dresses that were the inspiration for hours of imaginative play. I’m sure my future theater major originated in that trunk. Teresa also brought videos of musicals, ballets, and operas. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Pirates of Penzance, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
She didn’t stop with videos, however. She spent her hard-earned money to take my sisters and I to the ballet and to the theater. Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and The Nutcracker as danced by the company of the Pacific Norhtwest Ballet. Symphonies, operettas, and ice skating. A huge part of my taste in music and literature and the arts can be directly traced back to those trips to Seattle. Dick’s Drive-In burgers before the performance, mud pie at Red Robin afterward. What memories.
I got a Christmas card from Teresa – I do every year. She’s still single, still works at the library. And, knowing her heart, there is another generation of girls who are learning to love books, the theater, and the ballet.
Miss Jane Dooling was my eighth grade teacher. That was the only year I spent in Christian school – the tuition paid for because my mom was the church secretary. I have many memories of that year. My first boyfriend. My first kiss. I remember walking to Miss Dooling’s house when news reached us of the Challenger disaster. We sat in her living room in stunned silence, watching the news, not fully able to comprehend what we were witnessing.
And her books. She would bring stacks for me to take home, and as soon as I finished, there was another stack. I don’t remember all the books that I borrowed from her, but one series in particular stands out in my mind – the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, with the wonderful line drawings by Lois Lenski. More than the books, though, I remember her unbridled generosity and willingness to share. I was an awkward 8th-grade girl – braces, glasses, the whole bit. But Miss Dooling valued my opinion about the books she loaned me! When I returned a book, she would ask me questions: What was your favorite part? Which character did you like best? Did he or she make the right decision? I learned how to think about my reading from her – more than from any book report I ever wrote during the rest of my school years.
I’m not sure what happened to Miss Jane Dooling. I don’t know if she ever married, if she’s still teaching. But I’m fairly sure of one thing – she is still a book-lover and a book-sharer.
As I now share these books with my own daughter, I am grateful to these two women for opening new worlds to me.