Guilty as charged, and free at lastWritten by Quintin Ellison
I have a confession to make. Underneath my tough, no-nonsense newspaperwoman exterior, I’m an individual who is ridden with guilt.
I can go inside myself at any given moment and touch on a multitude of reasons to justify feeling guilty. Having spoken rudely to someone, not believing I’ve put enough effort into a news article, terminal procrastination, not spending adequate time with my cats — anything and everything will do.
This, for me, is normal. And because I’m accustomed to me, life is familiar if not always comfortable. That’s not to say I don’t welcome lightening the load. So I’m happy to note one longstanding issue, where my crime was real and my guilt justified, has been resolved.
I no longer reside in the bad-girl files of the Fontana Regional Library System. I wrote a check to the Jackson County Public Library for $178.65. It didn’t just make me feel better — head librarian Dottie Brunette was delighted. Even the other library employees seemed to enjoy the event, a celebratory moment in an otherwise dull day, I guess.
At a recent dinner party, Dottie had flatly refused a request to expunge my record. I wanted my own library card after relying on borrowed ones for 15 years. Jackson County is building a beautiful new library. When it opens, I want to march in and check out books using my real name.
That’s what friends are for, I reasoned before asking Dottie. To undertake small personal favors for each other and, in this manner, make the difficult journey through life a bit gentler and easier. Kind of like the Freemasons or something, I thought. Except, of course, we don’t have secret decoder rings or handshakes or temples in which to gather.
Ha. I should have known better. Instead, Dottie delivered a l..o..n..g lecture on the library’s needs, its limited budget, the value of books in general, the noble role librarians play in the world, and so on. She capped it off with how she, Dottie, always pays her library fines and dammit, she’s the head librarian isn’t she? So the least I could do is pay my fines, too.
What I wanted to do by that point was have a big glass of wine or two, but because I’ve sworn off drinking for now I couldn’t do that. So I glared at Dottie instead. Then I realized she was (dammit) right. I needed to pay the fine.
Here is where I start looking good.
When I went to the library and asked Dottie exactly how much was owed, she informed me there were choices. In a pained voice, she admitted in a matter of months, because of the sheer length of time that had passed, my fines would erase automatically. Then I could get a library card — for free.
I hesitated. I thought long and hard about the uphill battle for funding the library system is facing during these tough economic times. And of the almost indescribably important part libraries have played in my life and heart.
My father drove the bookmobile at one time for Fontana Regional Library System, so I spent many days after school and during the summer at Marianna Black Library in Bryson City. When my mother worked in Sylva, my afternoons were occupied with reading books and magazines at the Jackson County Public Library. One of Dottie’s predecessors, Jeanette Newsome, and other women who worked there kept a close eye on me. I love them for that to this day.
When I lived in Cashiers and was dreaming of farming instead of writing, I found books at the library to sustain and inform me. Working at The Franklin Press and for the first time truly living on my own, I relied on the Macon County Public Library as a free source of reading material and entertainment.
Which is where I got into trouble — during a move in Franklin from one house to another, a box of library books and records disappeared. I have no idea what happened to them. At that time I was too poor to pay the fine. Later I just used the borrowed library cards and tried not to feel guilty.
Jackson County Library’s workers gave me a list of what exactly I was paying for: 11 books and a double-record album — opera arias, no less. In October 1995, I was reading Jim Chee mysteries, books on feature writing and photography, Spoon River anthology, and more.
I still enjoy Jim Chee mysteries and opera arias. Maybe now the library system can afford to replace the books and buy some CDs. And I can check them out. Using my very own — and very expensive — library card, thank you very much.