I discovered the Ft. Thomas, KY Public Library after receiving a Nancy Drew novel from my Aunt Mary for Christmas, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall. Hardcover. I didn’t read it right away. It sat in my bedroom until summer when, out of boredom most likely, I picked up the book and didn’t put it down until the end. I wanted more.
My mom Betsy, gave me permission to ride my bike to the library. I had never been there before but it was a straight shot, two-and-a-half miles straight up hill. This is no hyperbolic statement. The hills of Kentucky kept my lungs and thighs strong.
The center of town sat flat at the top of the hill, but the residential neighborhoods of Ft. Thomas sloped steeply on the outskirts. I biked until it became too hard, then I walked with the bike beside me until it leveled at the top of my road on the other side of the reservoir.
Inside, on the south wall under the window, I found the Nancy Drew series. On each visit, I checked them out three at a time. I stowed them in my backpack and coasted down the hill towards home. I liked to see how long I could go on my bike without applying the brakes. The speed both exhilarated and scared me. This was my reward.
I don’t know if the trip would have felt as worth it to me if I had lived at the top of the hill with the library at the bottom. To coast to the library and then struggle to make it home with my books didn’t fit the mood.
I’d rather work my way up that long hill to the library while imagining the book options that waited for me when I arrived. It was delicious anticipation. I’d choose my books and then rush back down the hill towards home – weeeee!
Then came the day when I needed something more. Something a little more mature. I stood in the library not knowing what to read next. I drifted over to the adult section and saw a title that I had recognized from a movie, I had seen advertised on TV. It was a large book but I felt ambitious. I checked it out and sailed back home on my bike.
“Look what I got,” I said to mom Betsy.
“They let you check this out?” She asked.
“Why do you want to read Mommy Dearest?”
“I saw the commercial on TV.”
“You’re going to have to take that back. Now.”
Did she drive me to the library to return it? No. I got on my bike and started the arduous journey back to the Library. This time I returned with Stephen King’s, Carrie. After reading about “dirty pillows” I couldn’t imagine how much worse Mommy Dearest could have been. But it didn’t matter, Stephen King had me hooked on horror and I returned to the library again and again for Christine, The Eyes of the Dragon, and then Talisman a co-written with Peter Straub. Then I noticed that my older sister had a copy of If You Could See Me Now, by Peter Straub. I read that twice, then returned to the library for more of his work. Peter Straub is still my favorite Horror writer.
I hear the library has moved to a different location. The old building is now an insurance company and the unicorn no longer stands out front. But, for me, the unicorn still guards the memories of all the magic I had found inside the library. To see the unicorn meant that I was almost there. It was always worth the ride.
* After this story originally posted, my childhood friend, Erin Frank, sent me the pictures below. The unicorn lives on in a new home.