Everybody has a story: Early librarian was tough — but mischief made her smile

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The opening of our elegant new Fort Vancouver Regional Library headquarters has stirred up some old memories for me. I’ve been a fan of the library since my family moved out here from Iowa, during World War II, so Dad could work in the shipyards. Back then, we lived in McLoughlin Heights and the first thing my mom did was hunt up the library and get a card. I can’t remember where it was, but I do recall it was a small, sort of make-do arrangement. Almost everything in the Heights was sort of make-do then, as so many people had flooded in during the war years. We even went to Mass in a school gym with chairs set up as you entered.

My folks were both voracious readers. Dad, who never finished high school, must have read every book on the Civil and World Wars that the library had. This temporary library in the Heights furnished me all the Terhune dog stories I wanted, and I also read a lot of horse books, “Thunderhead, Son of Flicka,” being a favorite.

I remember Miss Eva Santee was the librarian. She was rather intimidating. I sensed that she was a little put out with all the newcomers to attend to.

When my family bought a home in Hazel Dell we started going to the main library downtown, which was where the Clark County Historical Museum is now. The children’s books were downstairs — huge numbers of them! Miss Santee was still the librarian. I remember that once I wanted to read Tarzan books and couldn’t find them. It took some guts, but I went up to the high counter and asked Miss Santee where they might be.

She looked coolly down at me over her glasses and said, “They are not good literature.” And so I backed away and never have yet read a Tarzan book.

When the big main branch opened off Mill Plain, I was there often with my daughters. There was one exceptionally nice librarian in the downstairs children’s department who spent a lot of time and effort helping my daughter Rose (now on the library board) look up the proper feeding formula for newborn wild baby rabbits. They were successful finding one, but wild baby rabbits don’t seem to make it on anything but their mom’s milk.

Miss Santee still presided upstairs there, and one of the more embarrassing things in my adult life was when I had to pay her for a book. It was “Old Jules” and I had taken it along on a picnic with the family. I had, in a mad moment, thrown it at my husband who had been having way too much fun all day splashing us when we weren’t expecting it. The book had landed in the creek, and when I presented it at the library desk it was pretty much warped. I immediately told Miss Santee I wanted to buy it. She looked sternly at the damage. I stammered a bit about how it got thrown in the creek … and a strange little smile appeared for a minute at the corner of her mouth.

It cost me $20 but I still have “Old Jules” and that memory of her almost smile. Pretty good deal.

Everybody Has A Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. E-mail is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.