Some characters stay with you long after you’ve returned a good book, and you can say the same about many of the people you meet at the library itself — at least I can.
There truly are some wonderful and fascinating characters there if you take a moment to look up from the page you’re on.
I’ll start by telling you about a man whose name I don’t know but call Mr. Red Rose.
I first encountered him while covering a trial a couple years ago. Apparently, he gave the mother of the victim a rose on the first day — although they’d never met before. He showed up every day to sit at the back of the courtroom and watch the proceedings, always sliding out quickly when the day wrapped up.
He had gentle eyes and long, tangly hair the colour of straw. He was middle-aged and usually wore the same baggy red sweater every day, if my memory serves correctly.
On the last day, when the verdict came in, I headed over to the Kelowna library to write up the story. I often do my writing at libraries, because they have just the right amount of quiet, while still offering the pulse of human life around you.
As I walked in, I spotted Mr. Red Rose hunched over at one of the computers. I couldn’t help myself and went over to say hello.
“No comment,” were the first words he spoke to me, clearly aware I was a reporter.
No, no, I assured him. I just want to say hello.
Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him what his connection was to the trial.
“Call me a concerned citizen,” he replied.
We parted ways at that point, but I’ve since seen him at another library in the Okanagan, and once or twice attending council meetings at Vernon City Hall.
Another time, I was head down writing away upstairs at the Vernon library when a small child, maybe six-years-old approached me. He politely asked me how I was, and once I responded, the flood gates opened.
What are you doing? What are you writing? What’s it about? What’s your name?
Awkward with children at the best of times, I frantically looked around for his parents — where were they?
The kid had bright, inquisitive eyes and a shiny, acorn-shaped face — bangs combed neatly across his forehead. He invited himself to sit down in the chair across from me and continued to interrogate me.
Finally, I saw a woman peer out from behind one of the bookshelves. She caught my gaze, smiled, and came over.
“Alright, time to say goodbye to your new friend — what’s her name?” the woman asked.
Charlotte, he told her matter-of-factly.
The mom gave me the lo-down. They visit the library every Friday, or whatever day it was — I can’t remember — and she hangs back while he goes off and meets someone new. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but I admired the unorthodox method of building social skills. And, I admit, I appreciated the rare opportunity to converse with a six-year-old. It was oddly enlightening.
Another local character I met at the library is Carson Holtz. I was actually walking past the Vernon library when I first met him. He was sitting outside and waved enthusiastically at me. I looked around, thinking the wave was meant for someone else.
“Hello, how are you?” he said.
"I’m good, thanks, yourself?” I offered.
I can’t remember what he said — something uniquely Carson, I’m sure — but what I do remember is how genuinely and sweetly he thanked me for asking him. He seemed overjoyed by the small, fleeting interaction. He probably gets ignored a lot, I thought.
After many waves and hellos, I finally sat down with Carson this week and learned more about his story. For one, he loves the library. He calls it one of his safe spaces and regularly goes there to chat with the staff and learn something new — whether it’s a language or a rare fact contained in some obscure book or another.
Not only is the library a safe space, it’s a community space. Something special happens within those walls where young and old, rich and poor all congregate together. And I promise you, their stories are as intriguing as any you’ll find on the pages of books.
— Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for iNFOnews.ca.
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