As I stood inside Cambria’s new library about 9:45 a.m. on the day after Christmas, waiting for librarian Joen Kommer to open the doors to the public for the first time, I could feel my mother, Andy Herrington, there beside me.
Mind you, Mom died in August 1988, but there are times when her presence is so strong, I can almost turn and talk to her. Oh, if I only could.
I know she would have loved the new library, with its space, warmth and soft, natural lighting from solar tubes and all those windows and the LED lighting. And all those books, so much more accessible and less crowded than in the now former facility. She’d have pored over every item on every shelf, although she probably would have already read most of them.
She’d have dabbled on the computers, having been fairly adept on her old Kaypro, with all its quirks. She’d have relished the reference area, and searched for new-old treasures in the new Friends of the Cambria Library Room.
You see, in so many ways, the building at 1043 Main St. would have been Mom’s library, too.
My mother was a prolific writer and an avid, almost compulsive, reader. Throughout my life, if she wasn’t writing, she was reading, to herself or out loud to me. When I was 4, she taught me to read my own books, because that was the only way she knew I’d quit talking long enough for her to read and write.
Mom was the ultimate library user. When I was young, she researched our family genealogy, which was a much more complicated process in the olden days before Google and www.ancestry.com. And stubborn? Just where do you think I got that trait? Spending many hours at the New York Public Library, she doggedly tracked our ancestors, learning they’d arrived on North American shores in the early 1600s.
Mom got me a library card as soon as I was eligible, made sure I used it, and then took me to libraries all over the country.
After moving to Cambria in 1970, Mom decided North Coast readers needed more books. She took on the county library system, demanding that Cambria be on the regular route when bookmobile service began in 1972. She became the bookmobile’s most loyal patron. Each week, she staggered up the vehicle’s steps, bringing back her usual quota of 20 to 30 books. Sometimes, they were in grocery sacks. Sometimes they were in stacks in her arms. Then she’d find another batch.
Keeping her stocked with new material was a real challenge for librarians Morgan and Lily. That Christmas, they took pity on her and gave Mom a gift: Her very own official library book bag. We still have it, although the heavy beige canvas fabric is now far too frayed for the bag to be a secure carryall for treasured books and the assorted media a modern patron checks out of today’s libraries.
Mom also fought for what is now the former Cambria library, and used it regularly until she died seven years after it opened.
My head and heart were filled with all that family history on Dec. 26 as I watched excited library patrons pouring through the door of the new facility.
But there was more, because our family also had ties to the land beneath the new building. My mom and stepdad bought that property from Ray Shamel in 1970. Daddy died in 1974, and Mom put me on the deed.
After Richard and I married in 1979 and decided to open a bakery in Cambria, we planned to build on the land. We bought a water meter (no, I won’t say how much it cost — that would bring tears to the eyes of any prospective builder today). We had plans drawn and got the county permits, but by then, the inflation rate had gone through the roof. Even though we owned the land free and clear, interest and points on commercial money were way too high to be rational.
Instead, we rented a former gas station and bookstore building from Jim and Blanche Miller, and converted it into the bakery it still is today. We eventually sold the Main Street property.
So many memories. Mom’s spirit definitely was at my side as I observed the library’s opening, and I know that spirit was as happy as I was.
Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her "Slice of Life" column appears biweekly. Email her at ktanner@thetribune news.com and follow her on Twitter @cambriareporter