(File under: Waking Dream)
My mother and I are heading south on Madison Avenue. As we cross 42nd Street she says, “I want to show you a street. Nobody knows it’s here.” We are on our way to the Morgan Library where I want to take her to see an exhibition of Degas’ drawings. We still have several blocks to go so I’m eager to keep moving forward–and what is my mother talking about, anyway? We are in the heart of New York City, just a couple of blocks from Grand Central Station. How can there be a street street?
It’s likely my mother is just talking nonsense. She is losing her memory bit by bit. She can’t remember how to add the tip to the restaurant bill, or what year it is. So, I’m ready to discount her claims of a street no one knows is there. But she’s my mother, so I play along.
She points to a short block on our right. “There!” she says, triumphantly. I look in the direction she is indicating. A couple of blocks in the distance I see the great stone lions guarding the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library. There was a time when my mother would be sitting in that library, books and papers piled at her elbows as she researched women photographers at the turn of the 20th Century for the dissertation she was writing when I was in college and she was finishing her Ph.D. Although now she can barely sound words out, let alone reliably connect them to their meaning, her home is lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves packed with a lifetime’s worth of favorite volumes.
Now here we are, swept up in the crowd as people bundled in overcoats and scarves rush up and down the sidewalk, taxi cabs and cars turn onto this street she claims no one else knows is there. I dutifully follow her across Madison Avenue, nonetheless.
My mother pulls at my elbow and points to the sidewalk. “See, no one knows it’s here,” she says. I follow her gaze. There, embedded in the sidewalk is a bronze plaque. “See that?” she asks. I begin to read. It’s a quote by a famous author. As people rush past us, I read the words embossed on this bronze plaque and then the next. I learn later that this is Library Way and there are 96 beautifully designed plaques, each containing a quote about books and reading.
We stand perfectly still, despite the noise, despite the crowds, and I read aloud quotes by our favorite authors: Virginia Woolf , E.B. White and Emily Dickinson. We laugh over a quote by Francis Bacon: “Some books are to be tasted, others swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” The accompanying image is of a book with a bite taken out of it.
Our feet line up reverently at the edge of each quote. We share our delight at each new plaque, each author, each pearl of wisdom.
As the rest of the world rushes past us I have to admit that once again, my mother is right. In this moment at least: my mother—and now I—are the only ones who know this is here.
© 2011/ 2013 Tzivia Gover