The Reader

Mr. Landrew read like crazy. When I was a kid, about twice a month he’d saunter down Albanus Street in the Olney section of Philadelphia carrying the latest pile of books he’d gotten out of the library. He’d use one of his old belts to tie them into a bundle. It was a big bundle, too. For Richard Landrew was a heavyset man who’d never lost the graceful gate of the athlete he’d once been. His equilibrium automatically adjusted to the pounds added to his frame over the years. 

On summer evenings, Mr. Landrew would sit out on his back porch or front stoop, and smoke a pipe while quietly turning pages. He leaned into his book as if it were a play being sketched out in a huddle. He was one of the few dads who sported a beard.

We kids, involved in our mayhem, would forget he was there. He must have read everything worth reading at the Olney Branch because he eventually would start making pilgrimages to the Northeast Regional Library and carry his treasure home on the bus.

Perhaps I noticed his comings and goings more than I would normally notice anything an adult did because Mr. Landrew also had three beautiful daughters of various ages. Every once in a while they would have to confirm that, yes, their father did indeed read all those books. 

Once, a kiddie skirmish became something more when the smaller combatant ran home and got his dad. The other kid, seeing a man approach and quickly deducing that the odds had turned, went and got his father. The two dads met and, without being properly introduced, began throwing punches. All the kids were circling and yelling when Mr. Landrew jumped in and separated the men. “What are you doing?” he shouted. “There are children!” At the time, I was disappointed. I wanted to see a fight. Now, I realize that Mr. Landrew’s response was exactly that of a true adult’s. 

Memory Number Two: A touch football game in that same alley. A smaller kid was getting on my nerves. I blindsided him and he went sprawling onto the concrete. The kid ran home bleeding and crying. It was a bully’s response that I immediately regretted. Mr. Landrew had been working in his garage. “It was an accident!” I said. He didn’t even turn. “No it wasn’t, Jake. You meant it.” Even now my brow reddens in shame.

It’s possibly a stretch to say that Mr. Landrew’s love of books had anything to do with how he reacted to these minor instances of violence. Except that a reader, especially a compulsive reader, seeks to drink in the wisdom of civilization, to hear the voices that death has not stilled. A reader, in other words, is civilized. 

Mr. Landrew and his wife, Eileen, moved out of Albanus Street nearly 40 years ago and headed north – getting as far as the Bells Corner section of Northeast Philly. He retired from his job at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Board about 24 years before his death in August 2011. 

Reading was still very much a part of Mr. Landrew’s day in his later years. It was newspapers in the morning. He sat in a comfortable recliner in the living room by a big picture window that let in a lot of sun. Most of his reading of books was done in an overstuff chair in the family room.

He went to the Bushrod Branch library where he took out about five or six books a month, mostly fiction but also biography. 

Though Mr. Landrew used computers, he disagreed with the notion that machines can ever take the place of books. “I’ve heard of books being made into movies, but never a movie being made into a book,” he told me years ago. 

Though he wrote this to me as he sat before a computer, that is not how I imagine it. No, I see him sitting on a big comfy chair in his family room in Bells Corner. A book, of course, is open on his lap. He’s glances up, makes his point with that quick knowing nod that I remember so well, and then gets back to his reading. 

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