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  1. Narratives

A quick trip to the library, and suddenly, all is right with the world

Life without friends, without school, without parents’ full attention can be lonely and sad.

My 8-year-old daughter walks to Miss Cailey’s desk at the Gulfport Library like Norm walks into Cheers.

On Wednesday evening, we rushed down before the doors closed indefinitely, in light of the pandemic. In her car seat, Isadora was tense. Books are to my daughter what toilet paper is to adult America.

She beelined to youth fiction. I stopped to talk to Miss Cailey, the youth services librarian.

“It stinks. I live in this community. I feel invested,” Cailey Klasson explained. She was surrounded by sanitizer, two tubs of wipes and a spray bottle of Lysol. Every other computer had been shut down to ensure social distance.

“This is the community’s living room for a lot of people. People come here for connection. We don’t want to take that away. It's not something we take lightly at all.”

A librarian sneezed, and I jerked my head in his direction.

“It's just allergies,” Miss Cailey reassured me.

Fifteen minutes till closing.

***

In the grand scheme of a planet in crisis, somehow the little things seem like they shouldn’t feel big. But childhood interrupted to an 8-year-old is all-consuming. Loneliness, confusion, isolation, worry and boredom dropped on Isadora like a hammer. And her parents haven’t really been there for her. Her mom is a medical investigative reporter for Gannett. The demands on her are intense right now. I also have been working long hours. We, like a lot of parents in America, are juggling jobs, our own fears and the needs of a confused child who craves more, not less, attention right now.

***

Ten minutes till closing.

Isadora is an absolute book hoarder. She likes to check out more books than she can possibly read in the two or three days between visits to the “Miss Cailey Library.” I looked over, and she had a stack of at least 20. I turned to her and repeated a worn-out nag. She hears it almost every time we go to the library.

“Don’t take more books than you can read, because another kid won’t be able read it if you have it checked out.”

“Not today,” smiled Miss Cailey, who was packing up to leave. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ll tell the front desk there is no limit for her today. Take as many as you like. We’d rather have them being read than sitting on the shelf.”

My daughter’s eyes went wide. She clasped her hands together.

“Whaaaaat?” I smiled.

“No limit today. Stock up.”

The librarian at the counter smiled, too. “You might want to grab a basket.”

“Go cray-cray!” I said, laughing.

She laughed, too, and looked around dramatically. The whole library was hers. She began to rush around.

The pit in my stomach went away. The world stopped spinning a bit as I watched a wonderful moment unfold. A memory to cherish.

Eighty-one books. The checkout receipt was taller than both of us put together.

Assistant Librarian Jean Sajous shows the receipt for books checked out to Isadora Pendygraft. "This is definitely the most books I've ever checked out to anyone," he said. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

We unloaded them in armloads into the front seat of my car and made plans to open the Isadora Branch Library at home.

My kid was just a happy kid. I was just her dad.

We got this.

Contact John Pendygraft at jpendygraft@tampabay.com. Follow @Pendygraft.

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