The deep South has its fare share of gardens. In fact, here in south Mississippi, where I currently reside, a step outside in mid-to-late spring yields an instantaneous whiff of deep, sweet fragrant flowers—Honeysuckle, Magnolia, Gardenia. These are some of the most most heavenly, decadent blooms of all, to my mind. They are also some of the most short-lived. This is almost ominous, because if spring in the deep South is beautiful and lovely (and it is), it is equally short-lived.
Then we get summer. About five months of it.
And in some parts of the deep South, like south Mississippi, summer is a time that you don’t really want to be outside too much.
If you have to ask, then you clearly have never sat in a sauna with an non-breathable blanket over your head.
Then you have clearly never felt the need to change clothes after a short and exhausting walk to the mail box.
You have clearly never seared the bare-skin of your thighs on the seat of a car when attempting to run errands.
You have clearly never had your hairstyle or makeup melt, almost instantly, off your face the second you leave the house.
You have clearly never—
You getting the picture?
It’s not just hot here. It’s a drowning kind of heat. And in a small town, like where I live, there’s not much you can do to escape it.
There’s not a mall here. There aren’t many restaurants. There are no indoor parks. My town doesn’t have a movie theater. You can drive to other towns for some of those things, if you feel like it. But, a lot of times, you don’t really feel like being out all day, because of the heat. There’s one public swimming pool, but it’s pretty insane once the the heat picks up.
Mostly, people are inclined to visit each other: at their houses, at church, at work, at pools of friends and families of friends. If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, and that’s the vibe you are getting…it’s because it really IS like that. (If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, then I suggest you do so immediately).
There are definitely wonderful things about living in a small, Southern town. But summers can be hard. This is not true everywhere in the south, of course. I grew up in the south, a town in Northeast Georgia. But it was a bigger town than where I live now, and it was also close to the mountains, as well as a lake. There were plenty of ways to be outside and get cool. My husband grew up in Florida (which is not really the South, culturally speaking, though it’s plenty hot). Still, he had the beach.
Because of this heat-issue, I struggled a little with making things fun for my (then) almost-2 year old, last summer. Now, even though it’s just the first of May, I’ve started thinking about ways to make this summer more memorable for her. Summers are such a magic time, aren’t they? At least, I think they SHOULD be. Thanks to a certain HGTV show, the downtown area of our neighboring town has flourished, and we now have more things to go and do nearby. However, all of these things cost money, which tends to add up if you are using them to escape the heat.
Then I remembered something. One of those simple, duh, moments. A memory from my own childhood.
The library, of course. We don’t have a bookstore here, but we DO have a library. The town right next to us has an even bigger library.
My own childhood is filled with memories of the library, especially in the summertime. We’d go every Friday–my mom, dad, and I. Coming in from a sparklingly bright parking lot to the quiet, clean smell of dusted books and the cold, sharp AC elicited a feeling of excitement. Reverent tones. The flicking of pages. I can still feel the weight of the bags of new books we’d leave with–worlds waiting to be discovered.
So yesterday, I told my almost-three year old about the library.
That it was a place we would be going. A place where for her to listen to stories with other children and find new books to read. A place so special, a place of such awe, that you have to whisper when you go there.
And we went. And she loved it. She picked out three books and we have read them all about three times since yesterday.
In the perilous summers of the deep South, the library is its own haven. Some say libraries are on their way out in the digital era, but all I can say is that I refuse to believe it. Libraries are a sanctuary, a secret garden. Many may have forgotten them, but those who remember the library love it truly and always. May we nurture it and share it’s beautiful secrets with others, so that we never forget what an oasis it can be.