Sentinels in Long Still Rows

Sentinels in Long Still Rows

“And up there,” she told us, “see all the little sparrows lined up side by side on the wires? See how they are covered in little sheets of ice? Poor things, they’re dead! Caught by the storm and frozen like pieces of meat at the market. Do you see, children? Mark my words, by the time we get back, they will have thawed, and gone plop, plop, plop, to the ground.”

We stared in awe. Our Story Lady showed us the world around us. If it was there on the way to the library, we were sure to see it. The white mansion we walked by each week was owned by a philanthropist named Mills, she told us.

In the library, we would sit on a large hook rug and listen to the Story Lady read aloud to us about Ali Baba, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Thumbelina, and other stories whose names I don’t recall. But I remember the Story Lady’s sparkling voice. I won’t ever forget how she held the book cradled in her arms as she read. I felt she was not grown up, like my parents, and not a child like me. She was a treasure, a precious gift brought to us children by the magic in books.

I first heard the legends of John Henry and Paul Bunyan from her. A great reader aloud, she made stories come to life for me. And after our story time, we were free to find books we wanted to check out and take home. I usually took four or five.

I couldn’t wait to read them. I didn’t know what I might find in books. Most of us children didn’t own anything more than comic books. We chose them because of their sizes, their pictures, the color of their covers. But we loved to read. I do believe the Story Lady was partly responsible for that. Some kind of freedom she gave us. Never did she censure us for interrupting a story to ask questions. Like my mother, she was a giver of learning. She gave it out freely.

Afterwards, on the way back to school, our Story Lady showed us where the poor sparrows had plopped in the street. “What goes up, must come down,” she said, emphatically. “Stars do fall.”