No one would have guessed that "Mother Goose" was about to "fly" away.
Like many times before, 81-year-old Marian Mathews, known in certain story circles as Mother Goose, was decked out in her storytelling-best, wearing a festive cotton jumper and a dotted Swiss hat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Mathews gave her undivided attention to 5-year-old Greg Bartos. This time, however, she was offering her weekly story hour for the last time at the Savage Community Library, atthe Carroll Baldwin Community Hall in Savage.
The new Savage Branch Library will open tomorrow near the corner of Knight's Bridge and Gorman Roads. It is about one mile from the old library --too far for Mathews to walk. The Savage Community Librarywas just "down the street" from Mathews' home.
Holding up a slightly worn book during her final session Thursday, the master story teller pointed to a picture of animals. "How many bears are there?" she asked.
Greg responded immediately, holding up three fingers.
"That's right," Mother Goose Mathews replied. "Show me six." Up went six fingers.
Mother Goose told other stories too, including some that required finger motions and one that produced a surprise rubber spider, to the boy's delight.
Greg was mesmerized. After all, Mathewshas been reading to children ever since starting her first teaching job in a one-room school house 61 years ago. Her teaching career, which spanned about 28 years in various schools in the county, includingSavage Elementary School, once located on the site of the Carroll Baldwin Hall.
The hall, donated to the community in 1922 by owners of the Savage Mill, originally had a library room at the west end of the building. A collection of books also was donated to the town by the mill owners. Through the years, the hall was used less, and in the 1940s the library room was closed.
It remained closed for about 15years. Then a group of community volunteers, including Mathews, set about reopening the library. But the old books had little appeal to modern readers and few people used the library.
In 1966, the HowardCounty Library came to the rescue, stocking the room with books and running the facility, which it renamed the Savage Reading Center. Mathews was hired as an assistant and eventually took over when the supervisor, Frances Davis, retired. Mathews' job of overseeing the centerincluded checking out books to readers, digging up facts requested by the public, shelving books and even helping children with their school assignments.
Mathews said she started the story hour to increase circulation. She figured that interested children would bring along interested parents, and more and more people would come to use the library. Her theory worked. The number of books checked out per day increased from five in the late 1960s to 60 by the early 1980s.
Also in the early 1980s, she unpacked a costume she had made during the Bicentennial celebration of 1976, and decided it would be perfect "Mother Goose" attire. Mathews made a pointed hat to complete the outfitand began dressing up occasionally for the weekly story sessions. She also began taking her stories to children in the public schools andchurches.
"You have to talk their (children's) language," Mathewssaid. That means "getting down on the floor" at the eye level of herlisteners -- something she is still able to do with no difficulty. Today, over 20 years later, long after she gave up her paid position at the library, Mathews has led well over 500 story hours.
She treasures the mementos from those years.
Hand-made valentines from some of her small listeners can be found among the old photographs of her former students, teaching certificates and other memorabilia she has compiled in a scrapbook she plans to give her two children, Marian Adelaide James, also a Savage resident, and a son who lives in Delaware, Robert Otis Mathews.
A hand-scrawled message written straight from the heart of a boy named Chuck C. reads, "You are a super, I mean super story teller."
Mathews laughed as she pointed to an envelope, also in the scrapbook, that is addressed to Mother Goose. "The girls in the post office know me," she said.
But Mathews has plenty to keep her occupied.
She loves to work in her flower garden and mow her lawn. Her yard is accentuated with mounds of tulips, daffodilsand other spring flowers from which she creates bouquets.
"I lovereading, sewing and needlepoint," she said. "I like to keep busy,"
In spite of her zest for living, it's apparent that Mathews may miss being Mother Goose just a little. Her bag of favorite children's books, which she used for story hours, is within easy reach. Among themare some of her own children's books, which still bear their penciled scribbles. But the books will be used at least one more time -- this time in the new library. Mathews has been invited to host a story hour there at 2:30 p.m., Thursday, May 2.
"Marian Mathews has watched generations grow," said Louise Reamer, coordinator of community libraries and volunteer services at the Howard County Library. "She hastold stories to children who have become adults and have brought their children to listen," she said. Reamer says the new library, which is larger and will have a full-time staff, will better serve the needs of the community.
"Marian Mathews is a lovely lady; we will be bidding her a fond farewell," Reams said.