Three huge ruby red rose bushes welcome everybody to the West Boulevard Library. They’ve never met a careful gardener, but they thrive anyway. No matter what. You can always count on them.
Today is the kind of Carolina spring day I’ll dream of in February, all open windows, crisp breezes, and a stellar view of all three rose bushes. I’m parked in the shade of a crepe myrtle with a month’s supply of paper towels and toilet paper, wearing a black mask and waiting for a friend. It’s 3:15 and I‘m alone. I really shouldn’t be. This parking lot should be nearly full. The kids should be starting to walk over after school. The computer room should be full of grownups who want to get a few things done before the weekend — pay bills, apply for jobs, print pay stubs. People should be stopping by to get their book and DVD supply for the weekend.
A month ago, this most certainly would have been an oddly meaningless dream, fuzzy around the edges. Going wherever lost dreams go the moment my toes touch the floor. Today, COVID has made it as real and everyday as grits.
I see a family of six, littlest one in a stroller, taking the shortcut between Arbor Glen Apartments and West Boulevard that meanders through the library’s property. As they pass the front door of the library, the mom hesitates. She tries the door — gives it a good hard pull. Just in case. As they head home, we smile and wave.
The oldest son is a teenager I’ve helped with checking out a laptop. The next time he saw me at the library he gave me a nod and a grunt. I don’t need to look in the rear view mirror to know a Mona Lisa smile slides across my face at the memory. Getting a nod — and a grunt(!) — from him is like getting an exemplary performance review from my manager.
I remember other customers. An older gentleman from Kenya who never runs out of something interesting to say — a master conversationalist. He asks me reference questions like “Can you find Lord Denning’s report on the Profumo Inquiry?” and finishes most conversations with “When are you going to Africa?”
My mind wanders to the first grader who meets her reading tutor every Saturday at nine sharp. They want to make sure they get their favorite study room, and it‘s first-come, first-serve. How many times have I unlocked that front door to see my sweet round-faced girl waiting with a big smile and an even bigger hug for me?
I think of the itinerant preacher who uses our computers to work out the details of her upcoming mission to Africa. She’s working on getting her immunizations now, and they’re not covered by her insurance. I know without asking that she hasn’t given up. Not this lady.
Our corner of the world, missing its people, is all but unrecognizable. Everything has changed except those ruby red roses, faithfully waiting to welcome us back. And we will be back. We will.
This story was written by Teresa K. Cain with photos by Sabrina Robinson