Today we heard through the library grapevine that Mr. H., our former regional librarian, was hit by a car on Wednesday.  We also learned that he was very badly injured, and that today he was going to be taken off of life support.

And so ends another chapter in our library system’s history.

Mr. H. was a pillar of the library community for decades.  I first met him when I was a librarian trainee, and years later I came to work in his branch when I became a senior librarian.

He was grouchy and set in his ways.  He was strong and opinionated.  He was intelligent and filled with arcane knowledge.  If you started talking about job prospects with the library, he would tell you about how many librarians were fired during the 1970’s.  He remembered cataloging punch cards — the same system that was so confusing to my mother that she dropped out of library school before I was born.  He was a young adult librarian to his core, and never changed his specialty even when he was so busy doing administrative stuff that he only went to one YA meeting a year.  He used to be one of the most popular booktalkers in the system, and one time after presenting booktalks at a staff meeting he threw out Mary Jane candies to the audience (in honor of a YA administrator who also, sadly, is no longer with us anymore).  His sense of humor made for some very memorable conversations … and for one very memorable interview for that senior librarian position I ended up taking.  He retired before the library system changed into something he no longer recognized.

He was someone that I wanted to please and hated to disappoint.  He and his wife always asked after my boyfriend (thank you for making a good impression, Honey!), so my boyfriend and his school were usually good topics.  The library and the direction we were heading in was not a great topic, so I usually tried to avoid it.  Whenever I felt like I made Mr. H. sad, it would bring down my whole day.

When an older person dies suddenly like this, it’s not so much that it’s LESS tragic than when a young person dies, only that it’s tragic in a different way.  When a young person dies, you regret all the potential that can never be fulfilled.  When an older person dies, on the one hand you think, “At least he had a long, full life.”  But on the other hand, you think, “But this was his chance to relax and finally enjoy himself!  To read books and watch movies and travel and everything else that he never had enough time to do!”

My mother is retired now, and she’s spent many years thinking about retirement and thinking about death (much more than most normal people), so I guess it’s always on the back burner of my mind, too.

Mr. H. and I lived in opposite directions from the library, but once in a while he travelled my way and we took the same bus together for part of my trip.  As we would cross the Broadway Bridge at 225th Street, he would point out the window at the view of the Henry Hudson Bridge stretching over the East River and say to me, “That’s my favorite view of the Bronx!”  I don’t remember if I ever said that the view of the bridge over the river was technically a view of us leaving the Bronx.  I mean, I know that I thought that every single time he made that comment, but I don’t remember if I ever said the words out loud.

When I knew that he was going to retire, I wanted to give him something special to help him remember his favorite view of the Bronx, and to let him know that *I* remembered it, too.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to capture the view seen through a bus window for only a few seconds while surrounded by other passengers and rumbling through traffic.  So instead I compromised.  I took a picture of the Henry Hudson Bridge from a vantage point in Inwood Hill Park in upper Manhattan, a little bit south and west of the Broadway Bridge.  I printed out an 8×10 copy of that picture and gave it to him at his retirement party.  I wrote a note on the back of it about how this was my best attempt at capturing his favorite view of the Bronx.

I’m glad that I was able to give it to him.

Goodbye, Mr. H.  You earned your golden years.  I’m sorry that you didn’t have time to enjoy more of them.

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