As much as we enjoyed the days and weeks we spent with all our friends and neighbors in our Galva hometown, it was time. Time to head south to our part-time beach digs on the North Carolina shore. Time for beachcombing days and star-gazing nights. And time for something else, too.
Now, anyone could probably understand why we'd want to leave the snow-clogged midwest for something a little more temperate. And in part, they'd be right. But deep in my spouse's heart and soul lay another purpose.
A mission, so to speak.
A mission she shared with a young man about to turn five.
The trip to Carolina was mostly uneventful, especially once we pulled loose of the wintery grip of the midwest weather we were trying to leave behind. We were glad to see son Patrick and his family, especially our two youngest grandsons, who were quickly getting involved in springtime activities, including a whole host of soccer practices and games. We soon found ourselves slipping back into the happy, hectic kid-centric rhythm that is the lot in life for many moms and dads, and resident grandparents, too.
And then there was the mission.
The Grandma-lady has brought a lot to the lives of those little boys. Thanks to her, they have learned to love to do things, whether it be exploring on the beach, baking a cake, discovering a museum, or reading a good book. Part of the fun of that last activity has been a chance to share our love of libraries with the little guys.
The whole library thing comes naturally to us. Both of our moms were big fans of books and the big, quiet buildings that hold and share them. We both grew up going to the library, and have always tried to hand that tradition down to both our kids and grandkids. We didn't know if we'd ever find one we liked as much as the one in Galva, but we've been delighted with what was waiting for us down here. Like the schools in Carolina, it's a county system, with a main library and several small, friendly branches tucked into small towns here and there. Closest to us on the beach is the location in Sneads Ferry, a small fishing and shrimping village on the New River just a few miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. She started taking both boys to library events, like story hours and craft programs, back even when we were just short-term visitors in this neck of the woods. Once we became full-fledged, part-time residents, the frequency of visits grew, especially with our youngest grandson, John, who was then too young to go to pre-school like his older brother.
Her heart sang when, after a particularly fun-filled story hour, he proclaimed that the library was his "favorite place to go," a bit of news she gleefully shared with the library staffers and anyone else willing to listen to her proud, happy bit of grandma-news.
Just one thing, though.
John wanted his own library card.
I'm not exactly sure how it all came up, but I suspect he eventually realized that his older brother, Cyrus, had one, thanks to grandma. He, of course, felt he should have one, too, especially since he was the true library habitué in his immediate family.
But here's the bad news. In Onslow County, North Carolina, you've gotta be five. He had just turned four at the time.
John is a cheerful, quiet type for the most part. He doesn't seem to care too much about what he has or doesn't have. He doesn't seem to brood about things.
Well, at least not about most things.
The depth of his feelings regarding the whole library card business came to light one day several months later, when he and his grandmother were checking out a few books at the Sneads Ferry branch and one of the nice ladies who works there spoke to him.
She: Hi there, John. How are you today?
He: I'm still four.
The kid was bugged, but there was nothing we could do for him. Not until a certain day in early March this year.
He had a great time. He took treats to pre-school that day, and was wearing a bright green crown with the words "Happy Birthday, John" emblazoned in glitter and glue. Later that night, we would all attend a family party at a popular kids' pizza-and-games place, while a full-fledged kid party was planned for the following Saturday. But right then, he had something else on his mind.
We drove back towards the island where we live, through the piny woods, and in the direction of the intracoastal waterway bridge until we reached the winding little road that leads to--you guessed it--the Sneads Ferry Branch Library, his favorite of all the branch libraries he's gone to.
Normally, John would be way too modest and shy to wear a green crown into a library. But that day, it was just right.
He smiled as he approached the desk and the nice lady sitting behind it.
She: Hi John. Hey, that's a cool crown you're wearing.
Wait, is it your birthday?
ARE YOU FIVE?
Another smile. A big one.
I suppose it's a pretty small thing in the life of a little boy. After all, there will be plenty of other gifts and other milestones as the years go by. But somehow, I imagine that John will always sort of remember the day he and his grandma had a mission. I think he'll remember grandma and the library and that very first card.
I'll always remember that smile.