I have not worked at the old library in nearly six months now, so returning to the old, pseudo-modern building made of whitewashed concrete evokes a feeling akin to nostalgia. I walk in through the back entrance like I once did on a near-daily basis, taking the echo-y stairwell up to the front desk where the familiar face of an old co-worker greets me with a grin of recognition. We proceed to converse of times not-so-long past, and I casually inquire about the comings-and-goings of the months since I left.
“Well, ‘Yarn Lady’ misses you,” she replies, with a conspiratorial grin.
Ah, yes. I am honestly not surprised to hear it, yet all the same I am pleased. The elderly woman that my co-workers jokingly refer to as “Yarn Lady” is a patron of the old library that I used to work with regularly, to the point where I became her honourary “favourite librarian,” for better or worse (despite the fact that I am not, strictly speaking, a librarian). I never learned her real name, since, in the entirety of the time that I knew her, she never formally introduced herself. In retrospect, I regret my negligence in seeking that introduction, for in my memory she shall forever be “Yarn Lady,” which is, perhaps, an unfair legacy for such a unique individual, the likes of whom I may never know again.
I can still recall the first time she crossed the threshold of the library’s large wooden entryway: a small, hunched-over woman, aged well into her sixties. Lavender Crocs at the end of white, spindly legs with knobby knees shuffled across the dark blue carpet toward the front desk. She wore a stained white blouse and gym shorts, pulled up high above her waist. Her eyes met mine: intense eyes, eyes that demanded my attention and warned me of unknowable consequences for any action out-of-line. Those dark eyes radiated energy, complimented by the hawk-like nose and thin, pursed lips that completed her intimidating visage. This face was framed by a mop of wild grey hair that…. was adorned with a large, comical wad of multi-coloured yarn. All of a sudden, any intimidation that I felt from this woman dissolved into an overwhelming desire to gape. The sheer outlandishness of what I was seeing had rendered me utterly speechless.
Without hesitation, she walked directly to my side of the desk. “Pardon me,” her urgent, breathless voice broke the stunned silence as her sharp eyes peered over the edge of the tall desk. Before I could as much as open my mouth in response, she continued with barely a pause, “I need help using the computer I am not good at using computers I need to search for a house to rent can you help me?”
Those eyes bored into me expectantly as my brain struggled to interpret the onslaught of words that had just assaulted my ears. Help, computer, house, and rent; I could work with that.
A few minutes later I had escorted this peculiar woman to one of the library’s many computers, and helped her open up a web browser and locate an online listing of houses for rent. It became apparent very quickly that she had most likely never used a computer before in her life, and so it became my solemn duty to supervise her struggle to master modern technology for the following hour. She was a slow and impatient learner, easily overwhelmed by seemingly simple computer operations.
“But now how do I go back to the search page the arrow is gone where do I go to get back?” Her talking become even quicker the more distressed she became, which consequently made my own stress levels rise. For the third time in the last ten minutes, I pointed to the upper-left of the screen, where the ‘Back’ arrow was located—where the ‘Back’ arrow had always been located. She responded with a half-hearted, “Oh…,” before continuing her examination of search results, her nose nearly touching the screen.
She stayed until closing. When I finally had to request that she leave for the night, I was taken aback by the shower of gratitude that I received. Never before had I been thanked so sincerely for my assistance with the computers by a patron. She left promptly after that, seemingly never to return.
But she did. Almost every day, an hour before closing, she would float in through the front door and walk directly up to me with the same request: “I need help on the computer finding a house to rent please.” And almost every evening I devoted the remaining hour of my day to making sure she found what she needed, providing her with pen and paper to write down addresses and phone numbers of potential houses. My co-workers began calling her “Yarn Lady,” due to the odd headdress of colourful, tangled yarn that she always wore in her hair. Without a better name for our new regular, the title “Yarn Lady” stuck.
Over the following weeks and months, I began to learn more about this peculiar woman through snatches of random conversation dispersed sporadically throughout our regular sessions at the computer. “I have to find a house quickly you see,” she remarked one time, when looking at a house-for-rent in Covington. “I live with my sister but she’s kicking me out so I have to find a house of my own. I don’t mind though but it is awfully inconvenient isn’t it? Isn’t it, Iain? I think it is. She doesn’t like my dogs although I don’t know why.” After every few breathless sentences, she would pause to look at me expectantly, analysing my expression as I searched for a response. Soon enough, I learned that my attention was all that she wanted.
She referenced her dogs frequently. “Oh no no no this one won’t do at all,” she exclaimed after reading the description of another house. “It says no pets right there and that simply won’t do. I have five dogs you see and I love them dearly. That’s why I am looking for a two bedroom house my dogs need a room for themselves. Maybe two. Make me go back this one is no good.”
That very evening, as I was pulling out of the library’s parking lot, I bore witness to Yarn Lady’s brood of assorted canines, large beasts all, as they poked their heads out the back window of an expensive-looking white van in the driveway ahead of me, with Yarn Lady craning her neck to see over the steering wheel. This woman, it seemed, would never cease to amaze me with her eccentricities.
As the seasons changed, so, too, did Yarn Lady’s hair decoration. On the first day of March, she arrived at the library with a hairband sporting two plastic four-leaf clovers, bouncing comically at the end of springs. In April, the clovers changed to bunny ears in honour of Easter, which remained a recurring part of her wardrobe long after the holiday had passed. I began to directly assist her at the computer less and less as she to, slowly but surely, learned how to use the web browser and search engine to find what she needed. After around three months, she began to go directly to the computer, only coming up to the front desk on occasion to request my help with a specific issue or task. It was a proud moment in my short career as a Library Services Assistant, witnessing a patron develop competent computer skills with my assistance.
Before long, however, several “incidents” began to happen on a regular basis. Always an emotional person, Yarn Lady began to take personal offence to minor happenings around her. On one occasion, the library’s security guard was tidying up the desk next to hers, and subsequently became the target of an angry tirade. The peaceful library atmosphere was decimated by the disruptive sound of aggressively raised voices, followed shortly by Yarn Lady, practically fuming at the ears, stomping up to the front desk.
“You must do something about that guard he is so disrespectful pushing in chairs next to me! I have a hard enough time focusing as it is without that big clumsy person moving stuff around me doesn’t he know that I am trying to work?” I did not even bother trying to interject that he more than likely did not, as she seemed to be growing angrier by the minute, riling herself up with every word. “You should talk to your manager and get him out of here he is very disruptive. I am bipolar you know so it is very hard for me to focus on my work when people like that do stuff around me it’s more than I can take, Iain. More than I can take!”
After a few minutes, Yarn Lady calmed herself enough to apologise for the commotion, and to thank me, again, for my assistance that day. This was, however, just the first of many outbursts that were to follow. The following week, she stormed up to the front desk, eyes glossy with tears, to tell me that “I simply cannot focus with all of this noise there are so many children running around I just can’t stand it! I have such a hard time focusing and these kids are just…” I listened in mute shock as she sobbed into a handkerchief produced from the pocket of her gym shorts. As she wiped her eyes dry, I offered awkward words of consolation, assuring her that I would tell the children from the school across the street to quiet down. Assured, she thanked me and returned to her computer, as if nothing had happened.
I cannot help but wonder about the woman I know as “Yarn Lady.” About the person behind the intense eyes, and the mind under the tangle of yarn. Who is this woman? What is the story behind her oddity? Dare I wonder why she is the way that she is? When I first saw her, I had no trouble dismissing her eccentricity as another example of our unusual patronage; we are not strangers to weirdness at the old library. However, with Yarn Lady, there was something different. A lonely soul, perhaps lost in a world in which it does not belong. She showed an unprecedented amount of gratitude for my services, despite the fact that I was simply carrying out the duties in my job description. Did my attention really mean that much to her? Am I truly missed?
I depart from the old library soon after, but not before asking my old co-worker to pass on my best to the rest of the staff. I ask her to let me know if Yarn Lady ever does find a house to rent, and if she comes in with a new headdress for Thanksgiving. Finally, I ask, with complete sincerity, that she pass on a message to Yarn Lady: that her “favourite librarian” misse