I grew up in a small mid-western town with the basic requirements: a bowling alley, skating rink and a couple of Dairy Queens. But we also had a pretty impressive library. At least by my childlike standards.
It was old. A stoney kind of musty sort of old, with haunted-house creaky floors, massive double doors, Michelangelo-type ceilings and glass mezzanine floors.
The circulation desk, solidly grand and no nonsense, was staffed by equally solid, no nonsense librarians, who answered questions, checked out your books and reminded you where you were with repeated shushing.
However, what remains forefront on my mind was the library’s unique lending policy that my mother took full advantage of.
Our family didn’t have a lot of money, but of course I didn’t know that back in the day. I considered our family pretty much a carbon copy of everyone else’s: we had a roof over our heads and food on the table, and occasionally we took a vacation. Additionally, I never had to take homemade paste to school, which in my youthful book made us a cut above the rest.
My mother, on the other hand, came from money. Her father worked for Standard Oil, before the anti-trust era. Her marriage to my father, although a match made in heaven, was several steps down for her on the financial ladder.
But, she never let the lack of money stop her from exposing her children to the finer things in life. At least when it came to education.
An English major and art history minor, she would take us to the library at least once a week. We’d pick out books, but she would also choose a painting to borrow. One week an old Masters like da Vinci or El Greco, the next, an impressionist like Monet or Renoir.
She’d hang it carefully on the living room wall, between my father’s ancient recliner and the S&H Green Stamps lamp. At the time, I thought the prints, enclosed in gilded frames, were the real McCoy. I remember feeling privileged as if their mere presence elevated our every day status from pauper to prince.
They also had a lifelong effect on me in so many ways.
Educationally, I learned about times I would never live in, people I would never know and brush skills that continue to amaze me.
I also learned that when it comes to expanding your mind, grey cells don’t run on money but opportunity; and knowledge is gained more often by a simple trip to the library than expensive trips.
But I also believe this library/painting experience influenced my desire to live greener.
My mother’s simple act of bringing artwork into our home taught me to use my eyes instead of my wallet, to borrow instead of buy; to enjoy without owning, and to savor from a distance.
Overall, if I had to pinpoint where my green road started, the lessons learned from the borrowed paintings are definitely in the running.
Think back… what about you?