This article, recently published in the Parkersburg (Iowa) Eclipse-News-Review, recounts a letter it published from me in 1969.
Former rural Parkersburg resident Lawn Griffiths gave a book talk and did a book signing Monday (Oct. 5, 2015) at Kothe Memorial Library. He is author of “Batting Rocks Over the Barn – An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey.” The 72 essays in the book by Xlibris Publisher focus on growing up in Grundy County southeast of Parkersburg. They were originally published between 1972 and 1980 when he was the “Rural at Random” columnist for the Waterloo Courier.
Interestingly, 46 years ago, in December 1969, Griffiths wrote a letter to the newly opened Kothe Memorial Library in appreciation of all the joy he experienced using the town library housed in the Wolf House mansion while he was growing up. The letter was published in the Eclipse. Notably, Griffiths said in that letter, “My ambition is to someday have something of my own creation on your shelves.”
Today, “Batting Rocks Over the Barn, (www.battingrocksoverthebarn.com) can be found on the shelves of the Kothe Memorial Library.
Here is the letter Griffiths wrote to librarian Grace Christiansen and published in the Eclipse in 1969, and republished on Oct. 7, 2015:
Open Letter to Town Librarian, Mrs. Grace Christiansen
Fort Polk, Louisiana
December 1, 1969
Dear Mrs. Christiansen,
I’m sitting here in the lonely shadows of my Army barracks in the backwoods of Louisiana reading wrinkled scraps of hometown newspaper clippings and my mom’s well-edited letters. Now a Private First Class, I’ve been adequately fed, tamed and harnessed to do my work obediently in the traditional military manner. Fortunately, I’m pleasantly secure and obscure in a military clerk job for an advanced infant training company at Fort Polk. It gives me time to do what I like to do most: read books.
Among recent news clippings was the article about the dedication of the Kothe Library, which I would have liked to have attended. Here on the outskirts of my adult life, I occasionally rest on the side of the road and ponder my youth. And I ask: What events and habits of my youth have had profound impact on my destiny? What fostered my immense drive to know life and grasp its handle? The answer always comes back to books.
Yes, I think it was 1955, and I was a bashful 8-year-old country boy when I first came to your library. History was my thing then. Why, I could spit out the names of the 34 U.S. presidents so fast, my tongue would get cramps. My first book from the Town Library was a “Landmark Book” by Random House Publishers about Christopher Columbus. Mrs. Chamberlain gave me the library book number 427, which I still use to this day. That year, my last in country school, found me reading over 40 books from the school’s modest library. I received some sort of a certificate from the country school system for that much reading. That school, Beaver Number Two, gave my mom her first schooling 40 years earlier, and now, for better or worse, it’s where my father now raises hogs.
As I grew, years and books made me wiser. I wanted to be erudite. I longed for the end of each book, so I could get another one. The Town Library, the old Wolf House, with its two stalwart doors, one opened to get into the library, was magnetic. I had to go there often. When I was later in college, its charming, timeless features provided many thoughts which I used for themes. Yet, while in school in Parkersburg, I gained immense information from its hardwood shelves to make my term papers sparkle with well-researched information. My fondness for literature and the writing success of my high school days impelled me to study journalism in college (Iowa State) where eventually I got my degree. Now five years of relative absence from Parkersburg, I often think in retrospect to all the hours of pleasant, intensive reading your books provided me. Many of the titles are forgotten, but always upon looking at some section of books at the library, I come face to face with old friends who tutored me on life.
Now on those rare visits to Parkersburg, my first stop is always the library. I go there as if driven by some inner force to pay homage to the shrine of knowledge. And, of course, our warm conversation is always delightful.
Libraries have always given me marvelous sensations of anticipation when I enter them. A man should stand in great awe at a library, for nowhere else does he stand in the midst of greater greatness. If only there were but time to read the works of all the great writers. My ambition is to someday have something of my own creation on your shelves.
Military libraries are excellent also. No money is spared to bring us the best literary works of man. However, looking at a general anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in the Army, I’d say that we get more than we may deserve. I get to read about four books per week. The Post Library is a peaceful sanctuary from an otherwise tumultuous, demanding army training post.
Sometimes I suppose the non-reading citizenry wonders if anyone really uses the library or reads those “dry, dusty old books by Shakespeare.” And perhaps a librarian is portrayed in their minds as a senile mute, bound in cobwebs who hasn’t seen a visitor since last year’s sixth grade came for a tour on “how to use a library.” But here you have one appreciative book borrower – and I’m sure the community abounds with many more.
Your town, your library and you, Mrs. Christiansen, have given me a special gift—a lust for literature. It runs rampant in my mind. I have an insatiable desire to read constantly. I salute all those generous, industrious citizens of Parkersburg who have been involved in the building program and the library board itself. I know no finer cause. I urge parents especially to instill an appreciation of literature in their children so that they, too, feel the bubbling exuberance I have had reading. My mind is covered by bookmarks – marks left by books. Like they say in the radio library ad: “Be everything you can be – read.”
Best wishes for continued service, and I hope to be home for Christmas to visit you and your books.
With warmest regards,
Lawn R. Griffiths