Clifton was an interesting place when I was a kid. In the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, my neighborhood around 32 1/8th Road and others in the area had many abandoned houses with overgrown weeds, broken fences, and other features that might capture a child’s imagination. Who left that gate open? What’s inside the window? Is something in there? At the end of the block, a contractor had dug foundations for buildings that were never built, and we took great delight in playing in them. Most of us were latchkey kids, and from an early age we had free rein to get into mischief in the overgrown fields, in the backyards of empty houses, or down by the river (past the house on stilts in the middle of a swamp). The oil shale bust may have wreaked havoc on the local economy and spawned decay, but it was a creative decay, and I remember it all fondly.
If Clifton was interesting, the Clifton Branch Library was even more interesting. It resided in an old brick building at 104 Orson Avenue in downtown Clifton and, weirdly enough, shared the structure with a biker bar and restaurant that I believe was called the Sunflower Restaurant (or maybe for Clifton, that arrangement wasn’t so weird after all). Once a week, my Mom, brother and I would trudge past the line of Harley and Indian motorcycles to the library door. Inside, the old wooden floor creaked. Dusty sunlight poured over the shelves filled with a small selection of books. And every time we went, my favorite librarian was there to meet us; Mrs. Lampshire.
Laura Lampshire knew what I liked to read, and always had a new book or series of books in mind when I had finished the last one. She would order books for us from downtown, and she kept things well stocked. My brother and I gravitated to her. We knew instinctively that she was just as happy to see us as we were to see her. Though you could tell she had problems with her legs, she always got up to help us find a book, or to talk with us about books. She really had a way with kids. When she left the library in 1984, we missed her. I miss the old building, too.
Though others inspired me to be a librarian over the years, Mrs. Lampshire was my first and my favorite. I recently ran across her obituary from the May 4, 2001 Daily Sentinel, and it brought back many memories. I hadn’t known that she had been a school teacher, or that she had also grown up in Clifton. No wonder she related to us so well. Today, my son also comes to the library, and I can tell that Miss Cheryl, Miss Amanda, Miss Diana and Mr. Trevor inspire the same kind of devotion that I once felt. Visit your local branch library, sign up for the Summer Reading Program, and see all that they do for kids!