Marie Lantelme! The name struck me from somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory. Miss Lantelme, as I called her in my youth, worked as a librarian at the East Meadow Public Library during my pre-teens.
Her name came to me while I worked out at the Bay Shore Planet Fitness, where folks know me as the guy who reads while he uses the elliptical trainer. In my shaky hands I held the novel “The Reading List” by Sara Nisha Adams, which reminds us about the primal joy of fiction and how it unites people across boundaries of time, distance and culture . . . with an assist from librarians.
The book transported me to my youth in a far corner of the East Meadow School District, across the street from the Hicksville district and a short walk from the Levittown district. I frequently mused about how different my life might be if I lived across one of those streets.
In the early 1960s, on every Saturday, a school bus arrived on my block and dropped off those who chose to board at the library, a short walk from the original Modell’s on Hempstead Turnpike. At that time, Modell’s consisted of stalls that sold everything from candy and nuts to old comic books. For a young dreamer like me, a free trip to this magical union of books and all manner of goods that I craved called me every week.
On one occasion, in search of a book to read, I ambled over to the desk occupied by a librarian — Miss Lantelme. Prim, proper, and speaking with the voice of a dedicated librarian, she asked what kind of books I liked to read. I hesitated for a few seconds and responded . . . mysteries. When I first learned to read, my grandparents gave me a book called “The Smugglers of Sandy Bay,” which still occupies a place in my book collection. I sometimes hold it in my hand to reconnect with its mystical power.
Miss Lantelme told me to follow her, and she led me into the mystery section and pointed me in the direction of books written by Agatha Christie. Miss Lantelme handed me a book called “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” I will not spoil the ending for anyone who never read that book, but I loved the surprise that I never saw coming. Every week I delved deeper into the works of that extraordinary writer whose stories still captivate me — even when I watch movies like “Death on the Nile.”
On one occasion, Miss Lantelme handed me the third book by author John le Carré, entitled “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” For years, I awaited each new offering by the acknowledged master of espionage thrillers the same way that today’s young people mark their digital calendars with the release date of the newest video game. Of course, I counted on Miss Lantelme to put the new le Carré hardcovers aside for me.
Weather permitting, I finished off those library visits with a trek to Modell’s for a visit to the comic book stall and, finally, to the candy-and-nut stall for a small bag of fresh pistachio nuts.
All these memories flashed through my mind while I huffed, puffed and sweated my way through my workout, giving thanks for the librarians of the world, like Miss Lantelme, who gave me a lifetime of joy and escape through fiction — and my occasional forays into nonfiction.
Thank you, Miss Lantelme.
READER MICHAEL COHEN lives in Brightwaters.