“René,” she said.
“The library,” he answered seriously, stilling himself as best as he could. “One whole hour in a room filled with books.”
His mother understood. René had been reading since before he was three. A library was his theme park. She pictured him piled with books higher than his eyebrows and heavier than his back could bear. She wished she could bring a camera to record these moments in time. She knew he was making memories. . . .
When finally the hour arrived, René was thoughtful and ready.
“Now children,” Miss Blackwell said softly. “Remember, the library is for reading and thinking. Talk in whispers so dreams can breathe.” A teacher about to retire, Miss Blackwell knew how to lead children to books. Two at a time she offered them entry. Most girls went straight to the storybooks. The boys went to puzzles and dinosaur books. René waited, breathing deeply at the door.
“Do you need help?” Miss Blackwell asked.
“No thank you, ma’am,” Rene said staring, shaking his head. “I do my reconnaissance alone.”
He walked in like a young knight approaching the throne. But in seconds reconnaissance it was, for he checked every book, and considered every space. He touched every shelf, felt every wall, and looked in every display case. He studied every row and ran his hand along all of the encyclopedias. He paged all of the way through the giant map book, dreaming of places he’d visit. Finally satisfied, he went over to nonfiction and chose a large, thick silver-covered paperback filled with small words and technical photographs. Then he found an empty place under a long, narrow table. He laid out the book, stretched out on his stomach, and settled in to read it. . . .
As he walked up the path, his mom was surprised that René brought only one book, not piles more than he should carry.
“I found what I wanted,” he answered as he laid his stuff on his bed.
“Well, tell me about it,” his mother encouraged. “Was it what you expected? You seem so subdued.”
“It was like going to church in my very own room.” His mother knew that was good.
“I do have a question.” he said. His mother’ s heart beat just slightly faster, maybe she’d have her son one moment longer. “Does nonfiction mean real, and fiction mean not real?”
“Yes, dear. Why do you ask?
“The nonfiction books have beautiful photographs. I want to be a photographer.” In his hand was an old Petersen’s Guide to Photography, the first library book he’d brought home.
That night was so lovely, mother and son decided to visit the piazza. She had her coffee and watched the people. He had his soda and read his book . . . until he saw the man with the camera. René moved over to watch him. René knew the man was working by the way he handled his equipment.
The photographer was capturing the last of the beauty in the last of that day’s early fall light. René was all patience as he watched the man work. But unmoving objects have even more presence when the light is fading quickly.
“One last roll,” thought the photographer. He glanced up at René. Still he stopped and said a grown-up “Hello.”
“You’re a photographer?” the child asked.
“No, I take pictures,” he said.
“You a photographer?” the photographer asked.
“No, but I will be.”
The photographer handed over the film can and said, “Then we’d better get started.”
René’s mother smiled with love.
She had reason to tell the story of that day many, many times before her life was over.
photograph courtesy of Rhein at REGARDING “PHIN” . . .
Thank you, Rhein for inspiring me with your words and your photograph.
—me strauss Letting me be