Janet from Woodbury, New Jersey

As I walked home from Saint Clement’s Elementary School, up the one way street, lined on both sides with row houses, my neighbor intercepted me. “You better not go home right now, They’re at it again.”  “They” were my parents, and “at it again” meant they were fighting. Not just fighting with words, not just yelling and screaming, but alcohol fueled punching and hair pulling, and throwing of furniture, black eyes and bruised bodies.  Since our houses were all so close, and in those days with no air conditioning, the open windows let the whole neighborhood know what went on behind closed doors. 
I managed to stay out of their way most of the time, by immersing myself in books. I read everything I could, with the guidance of the wonderful librarians at the Paschalville Branch of the Philadelphia Library. When I outgrew the children’s section, the librarians helped me make choices in the young adult section. Even though I was too young officially to take books out of the adult section, I had special permission, as long as the librarians screened and approved my selection. I was encouraged and enriched in so many ways. All throughout my childhood,  I learned about other cultures, other ways of life, a world of opportunity far removed from the problems in my home.

When it came time to prepare for college, reality hit, and it hit hard. My father was very proud of my grades, and my SAT scores. He kept a copy folded up in his wallet to show off to his drinking buddies at the bar, always accompanied by the comment “too bad she’s a girl” He had decided that it was a waste of money for a girl to go to college, since she was just going to get pregnant and drop out. He also refused to fill out financial aid forms so I could apply for scholarship money, since he was concerned that the government had no business asking him financial questions.

I lived down to his expectation, getting married at age 17. I did not drive, had to ask my husband for permission to go anywhere, or for money to spend. I started nursing school, traveling by bicycle and by trolley car, since I was determined to have a career. After the birth of my first daughter, I realized that I wanted a better life for her. There was a world outside of Southwest Philadelphia, where women could get an education, have careers, and make their own decisions in life.

 Over the years, I have remarried a wonderful man, and we have been together almost 30 years. I completed my education, earning a Master’s Degree, and I continue to work as a nurse.  We have raised three incredible children. My oldest daughter is a doctor. My middle daughter also became a nurse, but has switched careers to  enter medical school in the fall of 2006. They were raised with the support to pursue any career, any education, any choices that they want, and they have consistently made excellent choices, and I am very proud of them.

The public library in our town has been a part of our lives all throughout their childhood. They went to summer reading groups, and after school library activities. All of my children were avid readers. I now have a two year old granddaughter, who already shows an interest in books, and who loves to sit cuddled with a book.

The library where I currently live is small, and very friendly, like the bar in Cheers where everyone knows your name, but without the alcohol. When the library started a book group 6 years ago, I was at the first meeting, and have been a constant member ever since. A few years ago, one of my children was in the hospital for 6 weeks, and my book group buddies made sure that I received the monthly selection at the hospital, knowing that I needed the diversion.

Last year, the library was auctioning off an old wooden card catalog, obsolete, and serving no purpose in this computer age. My daughter bought it for me, and it sits in my living room, as a reminder to me of how important books are, how enriching and liberating education can be, and reminding me of how far I have come since my childhood.