“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and Nebraska Summers
Donald L. Vasicek
Augusts in Ord, Nebraska were stifling. Temperatures were in the 90′s and the humidity was also as nearly high back in the 1940′s and 1950′s. When I wasn’t in the swimming pool, or on the golf course, or sitting in the shade with my twin brother eating some of Mom’s canned sauerkraut we filched from a dirt basement under our house and arguing who was a better baseball player, Mickey Mantle or Eddie Mathews (my favorite was Eddie Mathews, a third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves, he played third base, and his swing from the left hand side of the plate was as smooth as marble), I spent my time in the Ord Township Library.
Mrs. Smith was the librarian during those years. A somewhat grumpy woman who said little, but always dressed very professionally with her gray/white hair always up in a bun. I was intimidated by her, but equally, I was very close to her. I guess I got on her nerves because I was the kind of kid who always asked questions, probably too many questions, about books, like the Hardy Boys mysteries, “Is the newest one in yet, Mrs. Smith?” I asked in a wavering voice.
“Donnie,” she’d always say, I’ll call your Mom when it’s in.” She would turn then, and go back to stamping library cards, something which always fascinated me. She’d pound the stamper, an oblong-handled device with a square ink pad on the bottom of it, on staid cards. And what once was a blank space on the cards, now had a date on them.
So, I’d meander through the library, checking out books, until I found one. I remember one, “The Jungle Book” (1894) by Rudyard Kipling. A short story in the book, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, about a valiant young mongoose’s adventures, particularly with cobra snakes. I sat down and begin reading it. Before I knew it, Mrs. Smith notified me that it was time for the library to close. So, I tried to check out the book, but she told me I’d have yet to have returned 3 other books that I checked out, and she warned, “You know the rule, you can only check out 3 books at a time.”
I said okay. I put the book back on the shelf and planned to return the next afternoon to check to see if the newest Hardy Boys Mystery book was in, and to read more “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”.
This past August I was in Ord with my brother to check out our roots back there. The temperature was in 90′s, so was the humidity. I stopped in the library. It was the only place in Ord that had WiFi, and I had some emails to attend to. So, I visited with Kristi Hagestrom, the director for a bit. I told her about Mrs. Smith and my visits to the library when I was a boy. She was riveted by the story. And I found it heart-warming to have been blessed with good health to be there and embrace the smell, the sounds, and the sights of a place that will always be cherished by me. For it was in the Ord Township Library that shaped my future for me and where I’m at today.