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Books and Beyond

The science fiction stories I am reading are in a book from our library in Ferguson, Iowa, in the early 1960s. The title is The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Ninth Series, Edited by Robert P. Mills, c 1958. There are many well-known Sci-Fi authors in the table of contents — Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon for example.

I’ll start by telling you about the library. The books were in the Ferguson Post Office, and the lender was the Postmaster, Leo Carter. The stamp in each book you could check out for a dime said Property of Carter’s Lending Library, Ferguson, Iowa. In the fifties, when anyone in our family went to get the mail from Box 67, we could easily check out a book. The post office building was on the West side of Main Street in Ferguson.

Leo Carter served as Postmaster in Ferguson until 1967. He was an avid reader and belonged to several “Book of the Month” clubs. His library consisted of 2500 books, among them the first editions of Zane Grey’s works. My husband Howard and I have about 200 of Leo’s Lending Library books in our home library.

With The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction before me, I began to read “The Willow Tree,” by Jane Rice, because she was the only woman author listed in the Table of Contents for this 1958 collection.

In this story, four children whose parents have died go to live with two elderly aunts. My first thought was “are they in a dream?” Here is how the third-person narrator says it: “They were sent to live in the past” (p. 223). Aunt Martha greets them, and they are taken to the library room in the house to meet Aunt Harriet.

The boy Robert asks Aunt Harriet about the peacock feather she has in her book. Here I began to look up information about particular references. A peacock feather symbolizes immortality. For the willow tree, the rain falling off the branches looks like tears. And an unusual reference is to the Moebius Ride at the Solar Fair. It can have two tracks and/or can be a racing roller coaster. If I had read this story in the early 1960s, I would have looked up words I didn’t understand in our encyclopedias that were in our living room.

At the end of the story, the children are gone, and Harriet reaches down to get a bright feather, which she puts in her book as a placemarker.

The next story I read was “Flowers for Algernon,” by Daniel Keyes. You may have heard of this author; Keyes followed up this story in 1966 with a novel with the same name, and he won many book awards. A film titled “Charly” came out in 1968 with Keyes’ story about Charlie Gordon. There are online sites about this story. At this time for me, I felt like I was working on a research paper for my English major. Here is one of my notes for future research: Look up the song “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”

We learn that Charlie works in a factory sweeping the floors, and the other workers take him once to a saloon and ask him to show everybody what he does for work.

At the beginning of the story, Charlie is being tested by several doctors who may make the decision to do a surgical procedure for him that will improve his intelligence. The doctors are also testing a mouse named Algernon. At his place of work, Charlie is mistreated. But a teacher he has, Mrs. Kinnian, observes the changes in Charlie with understanding and interest. At one point, she knows that Charlie’s brain works better than hers, and she tells him that.

Soon, Charlie notices that Algernon’s abilities have decreased and Algernon bites him. This makes Charlie wonder if his brain will lose its improved abilities. He writes a letter about this to his two doctors, who have different ways of understanding what is happening with Charlie’s intelligence. When Algernon dies, Charlie buries him and puts flowers on his grave once a week.

Charles goes back to where he worked, and the people there treat him with kindness. But he wants to move to New York where people don’t know that he was once a genius because of an operation. He takes with him his “rabits foot and luky penny” (p. 40).

At my request, in late December Marshall-Lyon County Library delivered to our front porch the film “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I started watching the film on January 1 and finished watching it on January 2. This was a significant way for me to begin the year 2021. My notebook is full. The film brings up how life can have its ups and downs, how science can teach us many new things about our lives, and how we sometimes face changes where we have no choice but adjust to them. I feel close to Charly.

In 1966 Daniel Keyes published Flowers for Algernon as a 311-page book. Like the 31-page story in the science fiction collection, it’s written as a journal, with a date for each entry. The first entry is progris riport 1 martch 3. “Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remember and every thing that happins to me from now on” (p. 1).

If you find it difficult to visit your library, call 507-537-7003 to arrange homebound service, available anywhere in Lyon County. You can also send an email to library@marshalllyonlibrary.org and visit marshalllyonlibrary.org for more information.

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