Bike ride in search of library collides with reality

Bike ride in search of library collides with reality
I made a spectacle of myself that day in 1975, when I road my bike six miles north to Jefferson, South Dakota. I was headed there for one purpose and one purpose only – in search of the public library.

Recently transplanted from the Allegheny foothills in Southwestern New York State to the prairies in East River South Dakota, I found myself in the throes of obvious and subtle differences between here and there.

In New York, most streets in town are paved and lined with sidewalks; some lead to public libraries. The question is not "Does the town have a library?" But rather, "Where is the library?"


After moving to South Dakota, I was a stay-at-home mom in a single-car family. Every day, my husband took the car to work.

A city girl, I now lived on a gravel road with no sidewalks in rural America. I could have settled for a terminal case of cabin fever. Instead, I worked it out by biking with our toddler in a seat on the rear bumper or pushing a stroller over bumpy, dusty roads; like that day in 1975. It was a mild mid-March afternoon several weeks this side of being snowed in, when I set out for Jefferson to discover the library.

Heading north with my daughter in tow, I made my way over gravel roads to State Highway 50. Now on a smooth surface, I redoubled my efforts and pressed on.

My pushing and tugging at the pedals were rewarded by the sight of St. Peter's Catholic Church steeple sticking up in the distance against a powder blue sky.

Back East, highways wind up and down and around hills. If you can see your destination, you are getting close. Naturally, when I saw the steeple, I thought I was almost there.

Time passed, and with dwindling promise, the church steeple appeared unmovable and remained distant. As the ride wore on, my legs grew tired, as did my hope.

Finally, long after setting out, I came to the weathered signpost on the south edge of town: "Welcome to Jefferson, S.D."

Pedaling slowly, crisscrossing the wide sleepy main street, I began looking for the library. Operating on my East Coast logic, I thought I missed it the first time and retraced my path back down the four blocks.

"It must be on a side street somewhere," I thought. So I parked my bike, loaded my toddler in my arms and wandered inside the only doorway with signs of life – the saloon. Addressing the bartender, whose back was facing me, I asked for directions to the library.

"Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where the library is?"

In no hurry to turn around or produce an answer, he seemed to relish my question, which remained momentarily suspended in the muted light of the place.

Then slowly turning toward me, he leaned forward with his elbows perpendicular to the bar. With his face curling into a smirk, he retorted, "Library? What library? There ain't no library here, girl."

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail pauladamon@iw.net.

Copyright � 2007 PaulaDamon

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