From the Recesses of a Small Town Library, Installment 1.

As I mentioned in the previous post, our trips to the library were an absolute highlight of the week. These weren’t quick stops, either–it wasn’t unusual for my mom to let us browse for an hour. She would get her own books and then chat with the two sweet librarians while we chose our books (I specify “sweet” because there were three librarians).

It wasn’t until many years later I realized that a large chunk of the library’s content was a solid 15-20+ years behind the current times and maybe this explains (part of) why I didn’t have many friends; I was reading The Bobbsey Twins instead of Goosebumps. I’ve been making a mental list of all the weird stuff we read and watched and y’all, it’s too much for one post. Without further ado, then, here are 3 exhibits with more (SO MUCH MORE) to follow.

The Electric Grandmother


We didn’t own many videos (remember VHS?), and the ones we did own we watched ad nauseam (Balto. We’re Back. Yep that was pretty much it). So when we discovered the library rented videos for FREE, it was a huge deal.

This short video falls under the category of “wait, was that real or did I just imagine the movie where a robot grandma shoots orange juice out of her finger?” The answer is NO, I didn’t imagine it–Ray Bradbury did!  Things I remembered before looking it up:

1. It starts off really sad; these three kids have lost their mom very recently and the dad is looking for some kind of mother-replacement.
2. As hinted by the title, the dad hires (purchases? rents? enslaves?) an electric grandmother to help around the house and with the kids. The two boys warm up to her, while the girl does not (even after aforementioned orange juice incident).
4. There’s drama, it’s resolved, the family is happy with robot grandma, and in fact the movie ends with a veritable army of electric grandmothers streaming into the world to deliver cookies, french braids, and orange juice.

I looked it up, because literally everything is on the YouTubes these days and it was all just as I remembered–with the exception of a young Edward Hermann (aka RICHARD GILMORE) as the father. WHAT. A connection to Gilmore Girls was maybe the last thing I expected to find.

Dangerous Mammals/Reptiles/Insects/Water Creatures,
e.g. The World is Out to Kill You


Were we especially morbid kids? Hard to say, but we did hold elaborate funerals for all the  lizards and mice our cat sacrificed at the front door. It’s unsurprising, then, that these books (under the series name An Encyclopedia of Danger) were a favorite in our house. Looking back, the writing was way too graphic and sensationalist, especially for being written on a 2nd grade level, but hey, that’s probably a big part of why we loved it. Each book was a collection of gruesome stories about–you guessed it–dangerous creatures. I still remember an included account from the survivor of a mountain lion attack, who described the experience of being bitten on the head as “a pickax scraping my skull.” In retrospect, I have one question: why were these people writing children’s books? Wait, a second question: Were they sadists?

Pioneer Health and Medicine or something like that
I couldn’t find this book (maybe because I can’t remember the actual title or turn up anything after several searches), but I remember it VIVIDLY. As a kid who spent most of her time playing some form of “pioneers!” it was an important text to have on hand. How else was I supposed to know how to nurse my dolls through typhoid and cholera? This book was large and thick and packed with information, a sort of precursor to the Eyewitness books. It was here I learned about pot liquor (the broth left after cooking turnip greens), which when consumed was supposed to make your hair shiny and bring a host of other health benefits (my mom made turnip greens a lot and for at least two years I insisted on drinking a cup of turnip broth every. single. time.). It also explained how some early New England settlers borrowed the Native American sweat lodge treatment for fevers, which I tried to replicate every time we stayed at a hotel with a hot tub and pool (“Anna, get out of the hot tub now.” “I HAVE TO SWEAT OFF THE FEVER MOM.”) I guess the obsession with health and disease came from both parents being in the medical field? Of course, now I’m reading The Great Influenza, so the obsession with pathology is still alive.

Next Installment: Reading my way through the Childhood of Famous American biographies (GIRLS ONLY), Octobers with 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffry, murderous little girl ghosts in Jane-Emily, and more!

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