I was 15 years old. I walked into the rural library. My father was freshly dead. I was a middle-school dropout. We were poor. It was Christmastime.

The small, public library was decorated for the holiday season. There was plastic holiday crapola everywhere. It was cold outside. I had no winter coat.

I stepped into the library with a blast of sleet and rain. I was wearing a T-shirt. My hair was soaked.

“Where’s your coat?” said the librarian.

“I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have a coat!? It’s 30 degrees outside!”

Shrug.

The librarian’s name was Miss Terry. She was old enough to predate the Roosevelt administration. Her hair was cotton white. Her shoes were Reeboks. Her embroidered sweatshirt read: “Dear Santa, I can explain.”

The library was a converted residential house. And I was a regular here.

“You can’t go around without a coat,” Miss Terry said. “You’ll freeze.”

Shrug Number Two.

I wandered to the fiction section. Fiction was all I was interested in. I read fiction each morning, afternoon, and night. It was escapism, I see that now. And I was a classic escapist. But then, there were very few happy things in my life. Who wouldn’t want to escape?

That day, I checked out two Louis L’Amour books, a few Dick Francis novels. When I brought my selection up to the counter, Miss Terry just looked at me with warm eyes.

“I have a book I want you to read,” she said.

“You do?”

She placed a leatherbound book atop my stack of books. Written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

“I think you’ll appreciate this one.”

“It looks like a girl book.”

“Try to keep an open mind.”

I took the books home, I read them the way I always read books. Ferociously. But when I read the Lucy Maud Montgomery book, time stood still. And my heart moved sideways in my chest. I had never read a book with more tenderness.

When I returned to the library a week later, Miss Terry asked how I liked the book. I told her it was maybe the best book I ever read.

I returned my books, and checked out more. This time, she placed another book atop my stack. This one was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I took the books home. I read them in a frenzy, just like before. But Laura Ingalls Wilder was immediately my favorite.

I brought the books back to the library.

“How did you like the book I gave you?” she asked.

“I read it twice.”

She smiled.

Then it happened. After Miss Terry accepted my stack of books, in return, she gave me a gift wrapped box. The box was wrapped in glittery red paper, with a green ribbon.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s for you,” she said.

“Is it another book?”

“Just open it.

I tore the paper. There was a coat inside. Warm and fluffy. I cried when I put it on.

“We can’t have you catching a cold and getting sick,” she said. “There are too many books left for you to read. You might even write one of your own someday.”

I wiped my face. “One day I’m going to grow up and write a book,” I told her. “And when I do, I’m going to write something about you, and how you gave me this coat.”

She smiled and straightened the collar of my jacket. “You won’t even remember me when you’re all grown up.”

Well.

I showed her.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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