The "Pot Luck" Edition
A woman named Adele Bildersee died last week. That was her maiden names, which she went by later in life. The same 'Mrs. Feldman' gave me my first job. In 1970. When I was 7 years old.
I was a new 2nd grade student to the John F. Kennedy Elementary school. I had a top notch teacher, Mrs. Lubin, who recognized that, for whatever reasons (will save that for the Book I Will Never Write), I was both bored and slow to make friends. Mrs. Lubin somehow arranged to send me up to the library for long stretches during the school day, to work for 'Mrs. Feldman.'
I really don't know what she expected, but she put me to work immediately. Clear, high expectations. I was given every kind of library task:
--Stamping the removable library cards as they were taken out of their slot as books were checked out by the tranches of classes coming through for their “library period.” She directed me not to overlap with the previous stamp but also not to leave too much room between the stamps. There was no expectation except that I would understand what was gently, firmly being explained to me, that it was important, and that I would achieve it.
This physical tasks were one thing. But I moved on to being taught how to sort those check-out cards by letter of author's last name. Okay I knew the alphabet. But then, taking each letter group -- the S's, let's say, and re-alphabetizing them fully, Salinger before Sendak, for scores, or probably hundreds of books each day.
Golden rule of libraries: what comes off the shelf must go back on the shelf. Re-shelving those books, fiction by last name of author but in the correct section of the library, separated by age and type of literature. Rolling the little hidden-caster round seat/stool around, to sit and reach the bottom row or stand on and reach the top shelf. Remember those rolly-stools? They were built so they rolled freely when no pressure was on them, but when you sit or stood the wheels locked in place? BTW I realize I need one of those.
Alphabetizing fiction was one thing, but the needed to re-shelve a full library cart full of non-fictions books according to the Dewey decimal system, was another feat of concentration. As was the physical strength needed to push those heavy wooden carts full of books around.
The point here is that Mrs. Feldman was not just teaching me ABCs and 123s or even to be careful and exacting. All of which it was. Whether she knew it or not, the lessons imparted most of all were about about the pride of work, the workplace itself, dignity of work. Teaching how to create that domain through her excellence, expertise, and expectations. It was palpable at that age.
Oh-- and also-- the love of books! The one soft spot she showed me was that, if I got lost for a minute in reading, thumbing through one of the books I was re-carding or re-shelving, that was (tacitly) permissible.
Cut to, 40 years later, me on a NYC high school admissions tour with my eldest, an 8th grader. Me, walking into the the school Library we were touring. Me, hearing, "Lauren?" Me, saying, "Mrs. Feldman?!" A big embrace. It occurred to me that the "old" librarian of 1972 was probably a good 15 years younger than I was on that tour. Anyway, we caught up, we exchanged emails. All three kids ended up going to that school, so over the next ~10+ years we saw each other frequently, every library-based event, poetry reading, or curriculum night. We still talked books and literature. She ran that place, too, with the same authority, poise, and professionalism as I remembered. Adult to adult, she shared with me some opinions on the state of library science-- and adolescents -- she held. "No nonsense" is putting it mildly.
My experience with Adele taught me almost every single thing about not only the love of reading, but the work ethic I soaked up and maintained for the rest of my life. What a boss. What a woman. I'm forever changed by her. I told the story of my “first job” many times over many years. It began to sound like a half-made up rosy recollection. I started to doubt myself as time passed. Cleaning out my mother’s apartment one day, I came across this note. I was so excited. It validated the fact that it really was a job because it reads exactly like a letter of recommendation! I should post it on my LinkedIn!
Go ahead and alphabetize the links below, re-shelve them in your archive, or check them back in when you finish them. This week’s LZ Sunday Paper has some book reviews in honor of Mrs. Feldman, along with all the week’s most important news by, for, and about women, delivered straight to your inbox. Politics, Pop Culture and everything in between. Every Sunday.
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