The Librarian on the Roof

Once there was a town that was famous for nothing. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was neither very large nor particularly small. No important battles had been fought in its long ago history. No president or movie star had visited its local diner. It produced nothing of note. It had no famous citizens.

It did have some peculiar citizens, but since every town in every part of the entire world has its own oddballs, even this was nothing of note. There was old Mrs. Eady who had fourteen poodles and took them all in once a month to have their curly white fur dyed a different color. There was Mr. Macomber who grew his mustache so long it hung down on both sides and touched his jaunty bow tie. There was 7-year-old Davey Newman who refused to wear anything but green, and who therefore went around every day in little green polyester suits. Though, come to think of it, it may have been his mother who was the peculiar one.

Then one lovely June day, a particularly peculiar person arrived in town. She was short and slight and had the grey hair and knowing eyes of a comfortable grandmother, but she didn’t look or act like any grandmother that anyone had ever seen. In the first place, her clothes were nothing short of outrageous. She wore a rich purple dress sprinkled with bright green polka dots. Her legs were covered in tights of orange and yellow stripes. Her hat was peacock blue and her little boots were red.

It wasn’t just her clothing that caught everyone’s eye. She didn’t do anything that anyone would expect. Instead of taking a house or a room at the town’s one little hotel, she spoke to Mr. Fredericks at the hardware store and installed herself on his flat roof in a little patchwork tent. Instead of shopping or gardening or showing around pictures of her grandchildren, she set up a large ladderback chair right on the edge of the roof and sat there all day, dangling her feet and reading a book.

Of course everyone thought she was odd, but no one wanted to say anything, so three weeks went by, and the town’s citizens passed under her red boots and wondered what on earth she was reading up there on the roof. Finally, one day young Archie Macready, who was known for speaking his mind without thinking too much and who had recently married and was feeling quite fine, dared to yell up as he walked along, “Isn’t it dangerous to be so close to the edge?” He giggled to himself at his own cleverness and daring as moved along, but then jumped a foot in the air when a loud THUNK sounded right at his feet. He looked down and saw a book on the sidewalk, face up and perfectly neat. He glanced up at the roof of the hardware store. The old lady winked at him and went back to her book. Archie picked up the book and read the title: Living on the Edge.

Archie’s new book proved to be so inspiring that before anyone knew what had happened, the young man took up skydiving and was soon performing daredevil stunts every weekend. His young wife was terrified for him and worried constantly, until the day when she walked past the old lady on the roof and muttered, “Thanks a lot,” and then nearly fell over as a heavy book landed neatly in her purse. She opened it to the first page and read the title: The Large Book of Small Worries.

Whatever was in that book must have been greatly helpful because young Mrs. Macready was always seen waving cheerfully at her husband as he jumped out of airplanes after that. Needless to say, this remarkable change was noticed by her friends. A few early morning strolls past the hardware store resulted in Peggy Granger carrying around an enormous cookbook (much to the delight of her thin young husband) and Sandra Barnett flipping through the pages of Knitting for Newbies just days before announcing that she was expecting a girl. Then Penny Harding was seen reading a bright red book, the cover of which she kept carefully hidden. It may or may not have been a coincidence that two weeks later she introduced her father to her new fiance, but since he was the sort of steady and well-do-do man that Mr. Harding did not think he would ever see with his little girl, Mr. Harding chose to believe that the book had been full of some sort of magic spells.

Everything would have been fine and still rather unexceptional (for after all, people being inspired and changed by the books they read is nothing terribly new) if Mr. Harding hadn’t decided to visit the old lady himself. By this time, everyone in town was talking about her. As they didn’t know her name, they just called her “The Librarian”. Mr. Jeremiah Harding hadn’t previously had any desire to visit any librarians, but since he credited this one with taking care of a daughter had been worried about since she was five, he decided it was worth making an exception. Not wanting to be too forward, he stayed on the street below and called up to the Librarian, “That’s some kind of magic you’ve got there.”

The librarian just smiled and went back to her book.

“Where’re you keeping all those books, then?” he asked.

The librarian just smiled again and turned another page.

“What’s a fellow have to do to get a peek at some of that treasure?” he said with a big wink.

The librarian smiled, but this time she set down her book at tossed down a small volume, which Mr. Harding easily caught in his big hand.

It had no title, but it changed everything anyway, for when Mr. Harding took it home and examined it, he found some very specific instructions, and when he followed the very specific instructions, he found a very large treasure buried under his very ordinary town.

You can imagine how the discovery of buried treasure affected everyone. Soon the librarian had so many visitors she didn’t have time to read her own book anymore, and soon the town had so many visitors that it couldn’t very well be called ordinary anymore. In fact, it began to be downright famous.

Things would probably have gotten quite out of hand had old Mrs. Collier, the oldest woman in town, not decided it was time to act. She had been quite curious about this Librarian person for a while, but getting about wasn’t so easy for her anymore. When she found teenagers digging up her flower beds looking for treasure, though, she decided it was well past time she made the effort. It took her all morning to hobble in to town and find herself outside the hardware store, where she stood looking up and catching her breath.

The Librarian looked down and a spark of recognition passed between the two women. Without a word, the Librarian folded up her chair and packed up her tent and made her way down the stairs and out onto the street. With a small smile, she slipped an ordinary book into old Mrs. Collier’s wrinkled hand. They exchanged another knowing look, and the Librarian slipped out of town unnoticed.

It was a long walk home on tired legs for Mrs. Collier, but when she got there and found her reading glasses, she smiled at the title on the plain brown cover before her: The Extraordinary Book of the Wonderful Ordinary.

It is amazing how quickly fame can come and go. A town that is famous for nothing may one day find that it has gained some fame only to find the next day that its fame has passed on again. It finds itself unnoticed, overlooked, ignored, and probably never realizes how hard someone worked to make it so.

No one in the town ever saw the Librarian again, but it was always quite common to see ordinary people walking the plain old streets carrying books in their hands or trading books or nestled under trees reading. And though that didn’t make the town particularly famous, it was perhaps more extraordinary than anyone knew.

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