and libraries have always been an important part of
my life, so it is worrisome to observe how the fantastic
advances in computers, the internet and e-mail are
reducing public attention because of the way we’re
used to reading.
To me, there’s still never been anything more relaxing than lounging on
an easy chair with a book, newspaper or magazine and allowing my eyes to feed
the brain by working their way up and down the printed pages. On the other hand,
it’s tough to work the internet from a reclining chair.
It’s particularly sad to see a decline of daily newspapers in recent years.
Cities like San Francisco, for example, used to field four daily papers; now
there’s just one. That’s the trend for years all over the nation.
I started out my own career as a newspaper reporter at the Woodland Democrat
in 1949 and wound up working full-time for five other California dailies before
moving on to state service in Sacramento.
The Democrat is the only one of the six that still exists; the other five – the
San Francisco Examiner, Palo Alto Times, Burlingame Advance, San Jose News and
Oxnard Press-Courier — are defunct.
Public libraries happily seem to be as popular as ever, however. Our Belle Cooledge
branch on South Land Park Drive is generally filled with happy readers. I have
to admit that computers, now prominent inside the library, have made it much
easier to locate books throughout the system.
I go back a long way with libraries. At age 11, in Brooklyn, N.Y., I used to
walk about a mile a couple of times a month to the Bensonhurst storefront neighborhood
library branch where I first got acquainted with the likes of Mark Twain, H.G.
Wells and Jack London.
Years later, after my wife and I settled in Woodland, one of our first acts was
to join the local library; it’s still at the same location downtown as
it was almost six decades ago.
One of my fondest recollections of the Woodland library involved its handling
of an overdue fine when we forgot about returning a copy of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon
River Anthology” as I hustled off to the Woodland Clinic Hospital for the
birth of our first child.
When I shamefacedly explained why the book was late and produced some coins to
pay the 38-cent fine, the librarian smilingly told me to keep the money and buy
something for the baby. That was the Woodland spirit then!
When we left for the Bay Area a few months later, our ties to Woodland and Yolo
County ultimately were restored when we resettled in Sacramento, and I took a
new job with the state in 1968.
Those links were strengthened the following year when my wife landed a job of
her own in Yolo County as senior program director for the Broderick Christian
Center. Broderick is now a part of West Sacramento. The A.F. Turner library branch
on Merkley Avenue was a major resource to my wife while she worked for 17 years
with seniors in the community.
My wife has long been a member of the Turner Friends of the Library, and we soon
became faithful patrons of its tri-annual surplus book sale. The event routinely
highlighted an irresistible attraction on Sunday, the final sales day.
For just one dollar you could fill an entire shopping bag with all the books
you could cram inside. The most recent such sale was held on January 20, and
we came away with the usual dollar bagful of literary goodies.
But there was also a sad disclosure for the future. This would be the last book
sale at the Turner branch for a long time. We turned to library volunteer Phyllis
Runyan, who explained that the branch would close later in the spring and be
replaced by a temporary facility at a still undetermined location while the Merkley
Avenue site is prepared for a new, larger library. That is expected to take a
couple of years all told. Meanwhile, there’ll be no more book sales.
And in a totally unrelated occurrence involving books, this past week I received
a phone call from Gloria Bagby, a Land Park area resident who was the subject
of a column in this space about two years ago when she described her plans to
find a publisher for the narrative about her family’s travails before and
after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The 83-year-old Bagby was writing about her family’s life on Corregidor,
the island that guarded the entrance to Manila Bay, before she, her mother, four
brothers and one sister were ordered back to the states a few months before war
Her father, Army Master Sgt. Ralph Rowland, remained behind with the U.S. force
on the island and was taken prisoner when Corregidor fell in the spring of 1942
while his wife, Flora, struggled to support the six children by working as a
waitress in San Francisco.
Rowland is believed to have died when a Japanese prison ship taking him and other
prisoners to the Japanese mainland was sunk by U.S. bombers shortly before the
war ended. His body was never recovered.
Gloria Bagby reported that after more than a decade of putting the book together — “it’s
a family history of a very important time in the nation’s history,” she
said, — that a publisher has at last been found. It is Author House of
Bloomington, Ind., and publication is expected to happen some time in the spring.
And the book, which Bagby initially wrote in long hand, now has a working title: “Has
Anyone Seen My Father? … Last Known Address Was the Orokyu Maru.”
That was the name of the sunken prison ship. Finally, Bagby asked me to write
the book’s foreword, and that is certainly an honor for me.
It is to be hoped that the book will ultimately find it way to the A. F. Turner
library and other venues where its story can be enjoyed the old-fashioned way — on
an easy chair by the reading public.