Early on in the pandemic, I fell into a routine, as one does. Every Tuesday, I’d go and pick up our grocery order. That actually wasn’t new, as I had done that before the earth was ignited in a fervent blaze of stupidity and sickness. Tuesday was the day because I didn’t want to waste my precious kid-free days slumming it with the peasants at the grocery store, and I usually had my little one on Tuesday/Thursdays. Not that you care, and I digress.
So Tuesday-Food-day were the same, but Pandemic Melissa got to go forage for food sans little people because the husband was (at the time) working from home, and presumably there in case violence broke out. Or the need for more snacks. Buuuut, (I’m getting to it, I swear) once the library opened back up for holds pickups, it was like Christmas morning come early. Books! New books! Books that weren’t mine! Anything novel (pun intended) was most welcome, indeed. It was then that I added the library to my epic Tuesday pandemic outings.
I remember the last day the library was open before it closed for about four dreadful months. I hurried over there when I heard the news. (Note that I didn’t make a run to the grocery store when everyone was panic buying toilet paper and kale, but you bet your ass I hauled over to the library to grab as many books as I could carry.) When I got there, people were skittering around like scared mice. The shelves were disturbingly bare. Fear echoed throughout the extra open space. My oldest had just learned to read, so I went to the children’s room and filled my bag and arms with as many picture books and early readers as I could. I had to ask what the limit was for checking books out. “I hope we don’t die of boredom,” I said to the librarian checking me out. Her head still down, she raised her eyes to look at me over her glasses and said, “Or anything else.” We shared a smile that only lovers of dark humor can share.
By the time those four unspeakable months were over, we were all long done with our library book piles. And so it became my weekly Tuesday ritual to first dart into the library, masked and moving with the speed of your typical neighborhood super hero, to grab my previously selected treasures off the shelf, check them out via machine with zero human interaction, and then take refuge in my car where I’d bathe in hand sanitizer before moving on to grocery pickup. I have an even better example for how this went: picture Foxface when she hid at the cornucopia to grab her lifesaving loot first and then disappeared into the woods, deft and swift as her nickname. Only I don’t die from eating the wrong berries. Oops, spoiler alert. (Actually, if you haven’t read that book yet and actually need that spoiler alert, you can stop reading right this second. If you don’t know what any of this is in reference to, this blog also may not be for you.)
Another little pandemic side habit (ritual? obsession? maybe she’s born with it) I developed was in stalking and raiding local Little Free Libraries. It began when I started to walk laps around parks while my kids played because gyms were closed and so was my heart. As I passed these LFLs, each one looked as if a raccoon shoved books in there every which way, spines covered, upside-down, fucking anarchy. My compulsive need to impose order would not let this go, so I began to organize the tiny book houses. While organizing, I’d often find a gem that I liked or one of my kids would like. Mmm, dopamine. The next day, I’d come back and glance over to see the LFL ravaged again. I answered the call. And so the almost daily dance began. It’s a combo of needing control and tidiness to feel safe, and the primal urge to scavenge for treasure (read: books. play on words INTENDED!) when I felt an overwhelming sense of end-of-the-world scarcity of resources. At this point I can’t pass a LFL and not tidy it whilst looking for books to take home.
Once the library began to open up even further (good lord, the gloriousness of browsing the stacks cannot be conveyed with words) its little used bookstore also reopened. While the bookstore doesn’t need constant organizing, it does require that I visit it weekly so that I may continue to
hoard books build my own private library with colorful paper word bricks that bring me such joy.
The book hoarding has continued, and I began shoving them into my already full shelves. It recently got bad enough that I could no longer find what I wanted, so I was forced to reorganize and create some meaningful categories. (I now have a World War Two Female Spy section that makes my ovary do flips and I’m pretty sure I now own every publication and cocktail napkin Brene Brown has ever written on.) During the course of said organization, I found that I had bought used copies of Quiet twice (I really enjoy introvertism, y’all), and I had two copies of Hillbilly Elegy for unknown reasons. Several books I didn’t even remember acquiring; surely I brought them home in a pandemic-stress-fueled fugue state.
Back to my weekly Tuesday adventure! (tangents and graceful transitions are my specialty) I’d venture to the library first, partly because books are more important and partly because food of the perishable and frozen variety needed to be picked up last. Once at the grocery store, a kind stranger would load up my trunk with my pre-selected goods and I would begin the journey home, ready with food for my family’s bodies and nourishment for our minds. It was a supply run, and I was returning victorious with the things that mattered most.
For quite a while, those two errands were the only direct contact my nuclear family had with other human life. It was what was the most important for our survival; worth the risk.
Books and food.
Food and books.