Memories of Grundy Center (Iowa) Library – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanContinuing some readings in John J. Timmerman’s “semi-autobiography”, Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987),  I read another chapter last evening. “Out of the Shell” describes Timmerman’s years in Grundy Center, Iowa (1916-20), when his father (CRC minister) took a call to begin a preparatory school (seminary) to train pastors to serve in Classis Ostfriesland.

This was another fascinating description of his early life among the Germans and Dutch (a few) in this community (as well as the Scotch and Irish). One of the paragraphs that intrigued me – and which I post here – is his reference to the Grundy Center library and the books and magazines to which he was exposed as a young boy. You will be able to judge rather quickly why this section of the chapter grabbed my attention and made me smile – but also frown with sadness (keep reading!).

The Grundy Center library was a good one for a town of its size, especially in two respects: an abundance of children’s books and a gracious, unforgettable librarian, Mrs. Holden. She knew books boys would like, and in my world at least, fortunately unfamiliar with radio and television, books were the frigate to take me lands away. I fought the Indians in Altsheler’s fine boys’ books [so have I!], the British redcoats in Tomlinson’s stories, lived in the woods with E.T. Seton’s superb “Rolfe in the Woods” and “The Young Savages”, had fun with “Penrod and Sam” by Tarkington, and, best of all, romped with “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

My parents also gave me books, the “Rover Boys” series, one after the other. These books and the excellent boys’ magazines of the time, “St. Nicholas Magazine”, which was not a Christmas magazine, “Boy’s Life,” and “American Boy”, brought a stir of adventure into my boyhood, where games, a rare fire, a runaway horse, or the drama of disease and death were about the only excitement around. These were the magazines of high quality and published stories by gifted authors, some of them famous in American literature.

The stories were rooted in human experience and human history, from drama in a small town to adventures in the forest, the frontier, the windswept coast, the buffeted ships, and the endless plains. The central characters were usually youngsters who dramatized virtues such as honesty, courage, loyalty, generosity, and simple decency in a harsh world. They were moral without sentimental stuffing and pompous lessons.  They were healthy books. When I think of the sexually sick world that I, as well as many little children, now see on the television screen, I am enraged at what our culture has done to the innocence a child deserves and needs (14-15).

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