Monday, September 3, 2012


Jesse Ball duPont Library
on rainy Labor Day

A few days ago, I walked over to the university library here on the campus of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee and was amazed at the quietness inside the place. Of course, libraries once boasted large “Shhh,” signs, and silence was strongly enforced. Actually, centuries ago in England, libraries were dark, museum-type buildings with books chained to the tables. Now, they’re well-lighted multimedia centers that offer patrons expansive check-out privileges.
When I walked into the stillness of the university library, memories of the city library in New Iberia, Louisiana, where I once worked as a Public Relations Director, drifted through my mind. I almost laughed aloud at the memory of the day a shy newcomer joined our staff and was surprised to find that quietness didn’t always prevail in a small city library.
The most-remembered noisy incident took place on the day of the newcomer’s arrival when Louise Fisher, assistant librarian, had to administer “Second Aid.” Louise was constantly on call to doctor street victims and technicians who often cut their fingers servicing the copy machine. She was dubbed a “Second Aider” because she moved with slow and perfect calmness and usually arrived with a band-aid or ammonia after the accident victim had reached point of hemorrhage or expiration.
The day the shy staff member discovered that the New Iberia Library wasn’t a quiet haven, we were drinking coffee in a back room overlooking the Bayou Teche and suddenly saw a woman running toward the bayou at the pace of a hysterical gallop. We also heard a high-pitched wail that sounded as if she was about to attempt a high dive or was screaming for last rites.
Second Aider Louise went into action and actually raced out the back door, tackling the woman before she could fling herself into the rusty Teche that runs behind the library. For perhaps an hour, our second aider sat in the cab of the woman’s truck and counseled her, finally relinquishing her most seriously-impaired victim to a relative who had been summoned.  That day she gained a promotion to "First Aider."
“Does this happen very often?” our shy newcomer asked. “Oh no,” we assured her. However, I recall that the same week of the near-suicide, a drunk wandered in and wobbled into the back rooms of the library,  looking for -- you guessed it -- Louise.  This incident was followed by Louise's encounter with a voyeur who hid in the poetry stacks and tried to frighten one of our spinster librarians. No, quietness didn’t always prevail in this city library!
All of the members of the New Iberia library staff  practiced second aid when one of the crew came to work in a blue funk. A rich vein of humor ran from the front desk, down the back hall, and into the coffee lounge. One day when I went to work with a case of vapors, several staff members helped to evaporate my bad humor. At break time that day, the library secretary, who later retired to await the delivery of twins, decided to alter my mood with a story about pregnancy.
“My dog had to get in on the act,” she said. “One afternoon I came home and found him in a corner, his stomach badly swollen, looking like a good imitation of me. Now, mind you, this is a male dog. He lay there awhile and finally emitted this low-throated ‘aarp’ that convinced me he wasn’t feeling well. We discovered that, in envy of my balloon-like state, he had decided to mimic my habit of eating everything in sight. When he finished off his bowl of food, which we had increased daily, he chewed up and swallowed the sponge wax mop I had left lying about. The combination wax and sponge quickly blew him up to desired pregnancy size. We had to rush him to the vet for an x-ray. He was worse off than a woman with morning sickness for awhile.” Needless to say, I had difficulty nursing a bad mood after hearing the story.
That afternoon, another anecdote came into the coffee room via a staff member who had observed this interaction between Louise and a young patron who had begun to annoy our second aider by continuously turning a huge world globe until it seemed perilously close to spinning out of orbit. “Miss Louise,” he yelled across the library. Louise, busy reading the stacks, kept shushing him. Finally, in desperation, the boy called to her: “Miss Louise, if you don’t come here...” and gave the globe a vicious twirl. Outdone, Louise quickened her usual slow pace and reached the boy prepared to administer second aid by taping his mouth. “Show me,” the boy demanded, “show me on this thing where God lives.” The only answer he got from Louise was that God is in heaven and all is right with the world, and our second aider decided to work in the back room of the library the remainder of the day, providing second aid to people with physical and emotional needs, rather than theological ones.
When Louise died, I preached the homily for her funeral and talked about the writings she had done for the "Reflections" group, a women’s creative writing group that I taught at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia. She penned her own epitaph in the book I edited for this group entitled Meditations of My Heart. In one of the sessions with the group, I had read aloud a passage from the poem entitled “A Passage From Religious Leanings” by e. e. cummings, the last few lines which read: “Winter by Spring, I lift my diminutive spire to/Merciful Him whose only now is forever…”
In response to these lines, Louise wrote: “It is hard to accept the thought of death, either your own or a loved one’s. When death faces you, so many thoughts run through your mind, but the main one is about what will happen to the loved ones you leave behind. The talk of death reminds me of my bouts with cancer,” she said. “The first time I was told I had cancer, I thought: ‘this is pretty bad.’ The second time they told me I had another cancer, I thought, ‘Goodness, I’ll take out a nursing home policy.’ The third time I thought, ‘oops, maybe I had better make funeral arrangements.’ Yet, I haven’t taken any of these actions in the face of my resurrections! As Cummings said, ‘I lift my diminutive spirit to merciful Him whose only now is forever’…”
Louise lived through many sufferings, enduring four bouts with several kinds of cancer and working at the New Iberia Library during most of those bouts, Since her death, no one has applied for, or been hired for, her noteworthy position as “Second Aider.”  She probably took her Second Aid kit with her.

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan (in the rain)

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