The following is a guest post by Hope O’Keeffe, supervisory attorney-advisor in the Office of the General Counsel at the Library of Congress.
You never know when you’ll change someone’s life.
In third grade, I spent an afternoon visiting Great Aunt Mill’s friend Laura Hulse, a real poet with the most books I’d ever seen outside a library! Miss Hulse gave me tea and cookies, patiently listened to me reciting the poems I’d written, and talked to me about being a writer. When I left, she gave me two children’s books, which I read over and over again. One of them was Margaret Cabell Self’s 1948 Come Away!, about a misfit boy, his invisible leprechaun friend, and a horse. The other was Carroll Trowbridge Cooney’s 1942 A Green Field for Courage, about an imaginative boy and his toy soldiers.
One attraction of Come Away! (besides the fact that leprechaun friends are handy to keep around) was its epigraph: Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” with the refrain “Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” It was the first poem I ever fell in love with (twist my arm and I can still recite it for you).
Years later, after my grandmother died, I found her copy—marked “To Gladys, With Love”—of Random Rhymes, the book of poetry that Miss Hulse finally published at 90. It made me realize that the whole visit was a setup: my grandmother knew of my dreams of being a writer, and arranged an inspirational encounter through her sister.
I never saw Miss Hulse again, but that magical visit, her kindness, and my grandmother’s plotting with Aunt Mill set me on the path to bibliophilia and the Library. The biographical afterword to Random Rhymes describes Miss Hulse’s house perfectly: “Bookcases were constantly being built. . . . Then, if you are visiting, a book is offered, always one you want.” It’s a wonderful model to live by.
Somewhere along the line, in the course of our many moves, my mother tossed Come Away! and A Green Field for Courage. They long ago went out of print, and in those pre-online days I never could find a copy. One of the first things I did when I joined the Library of Congress staff was to look them up in the catalog. I suspect no one had checked out Come Away! or A Green Field for Courage in the past half-century. But there they were, a piece of childhood, preserved in the Library’s storage modules for all these years. I even passed an otherwise forgotten book along to a new generation: my toy-soldier-obsessed son Jeffrey wrote a book report about A Green Field for Courage.
Contrary to popular expectation, the Library doesn’t have all the books ever published—but we do have an astounding number of them. Who needs invisible leprechauns or tempting fairies when you’re around all the books and poetry you could possibly want?