Column - Shirla deserves endless rose bouquetsLife is no bed of roses, that’s for sure, but I think Shirla Hanson might disagree. Shirla just retired after working for 37 years at the Douglas County Library.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
Life is no bed of roses, that's for sure, but I think Shirla Hanson might disagree.
Shirla just retired after working for 37 years at the Douglas County Library.
Every year, on Shirla's birthday, the library check-out area was magically transformed into a blooming fragrant nursery, as if Prince Charming stepped out of a storybook to pay a visit. There were roses and more roses everywhere, most of them sent by Shirla's children. She had always told them - old-fashioned romantic that she is - she wants roses now, in this life, not at her funeral.
Library patrons were stunned.
"Why all the roses?" they'd ask.
"It's Shirla's birthday," they'd be told.
"Happy birthday, Shirla!" they'd exclaim.
Many female patrons would express envy, wishing their husbands were that romantic - or at least thoughtful.
Casting a jaundiced eye at all the roses, Library Commandant - whoops, I mean Director - Trish Conroy, a bit jealous, would always say in deadpan sarcasm, "It looks like a mortuary around here."
And speaking of birthdays, the first time Shirla told me her age, I was certain she was pulling my leg. Then she told me she had seven children, and I knew she must be joking. Shirla was gorgeous - wrinkle-free - with eyes like jewels twinkling with merriment (and sometimes mischief). She had a full mane of wavy hair that fell down past her dangling earrings. So unlike the stern warty-witch librarians of my childhood.
"Shirla, you're not 52," I said. "You look like 31. You can't be 52?"
"Oh yes she can, and she is!" said Trish, who was standing near Shirla at the front desk. "Shirla really is 52. She obviously looks her age. She's old. Can't you tell, Dennis?"
(Trish never missed a chance to express her deadpan sarcasm. Shirla, the perfect sidekick, always played along with Trish as a patient-but-befuddled second fiddle. They reminded me at times of a female version of Laurel and Hardy.)
One day, I demanded to see Shirla's ID card. She handed it to me and - sure enough - she was indeed 52.
"Told you, Dennis," said Trish, who was standing there with a smiley smirk. "Old!"
Throughout the many decades of the Douglas County Public Library, its staff was often under intense pressure because of technological changes and the effort to keep up with increasing public needs - especially in that small Carnegie building before the move to bigger quarters. A lot of pressure, yes, but talk about grace under pressure!
They turned the stress into barrels of fun, day after day. One of the highlights of life during my Alexandria years, as I call them now, was to go to the library with an armload of overdue books and give Trish and Shirla grief.
We always danced a verbal soft-shoe or played rapid-fire verbal tennis.
"Trish, can I go in the back room?" I'd ask.
"I want to find out where you hide those naughty books you keep locked up from the public," I'd say.
"None of your business," she'd tell me.
As soon as Trish's back was turned, Shirla would wink. Then she'd tell me in a conspiratorial whisper, "Dennis, I know where she keeps her stash, but I can't tell you right now."
Some years ago, Shirla was named "Favorite County Employee" in a poll conducted by the Alexandria Echo Press. She was very proud of that honor because she so enjoyed working with the public - two generations of them.
The other day, I interviewed "old" Trish, also retired, about Shirla.
Trish decided to be nice, this time, to her "old" sidekick.
"Shirla is like a bartender," Trish said. People tell her their secrets. She hears a lot of stories and jokes - some that cannot be published. She thinks the library has broadened her horizons and that everyone should use the library. All you need is a library card."
Trish said she is happy Shirla will be able to spend more time - especially fishing time - with her seven children, 13 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and her husband Albert, aka "Sandy."
"I love her husband!" Trish crooned.
(Mmmm, do I detect a scandal here?)
Along with Trish and thousands of long-time library patrons, I, too, want to wish you, Shirla, the happiest of retirements. Thanks for all the fun times; thanks for the happy memories.
Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.