This is a sponsored series with Wells Fargo. I was invited to reflect on, and share, my Untold story. This is part one of a two-part post.
Kathryn Harris deals in untold stories but her job is in making sure they see the light of day. The stories are with her every day. Literally. Kathryn is a librarian.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before that I wanted to become a librarian. I have an immense amount of respect for them or how they’ve shaped my life, but the truth is that they have. My first library card was a stolen one from my mother at the Chicago Public Library. She used to hand me her card to use and check out children’s books, but it didn’t have my name on it so it didn’t feel like mine.
Chicago Public Library, courtesy of Serge Melki
When I finally secured one for myself we had moved to a small, diverse suburb south of Chicago and it wasn’t as impressive or foreboding as the architectural beauty of the columns and old school feel of the Chicago Public Library. That didn’t matter. In fact, the card was more important to me than the building.
The building, however, must be explained. Instead of the classic look of our old library, it was in an abandoned house at the end of a long street across from the country club where we used to go for dinner as a family to Taco Night or sometimes for brunch on the weekends. Someone must have donated it to the village (as our suburb was known) and it housed all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon I would ever want to read.
During the summer of my 5th grade school year, I was in charge of putting my younger sister in the red wagon along with my books to be returned (or albums that I borrowed like Annie or Really Rosie) and haul her up the hill to the library.
I, personally, didn’t just fall in love with books or the worlds they opened for me. I fell in love with the librarian. She knew everything and everybody who entered the front door which looked similar to the one on our house.
Beverly Simpson's Untold Story
As I spent time finding an untold story on my own, I was inspired by Beverly's story because, as you'll see if you watch this video and then read on about Kathryn Harris, these women share some commonalities. When Beverly says, "I've been proud and I let no one take that from me" I think of Kathryn.
It was a no-brainer, then, for me to find my own favorite librarians in every town I’ve lived in since that time. Kathryn was an easy find. I’ve known her, or, rather, her reputation, for the last 20 years. These days, she works at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, a research library connected to the museum, in Springfield, Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, courtesy of Winonave
Each year our school visits the presidential library to do research for the history fair our students enter. Thehead research librarian works with our students and I watched her move swiftly and deftly between the tables to ask students what they needed. She’s the kind of person who, when you meet her, you know she’s got stories. Kathryn knows her books, she knows history, and she knows what fuses need to be lit.
In Your Untold Story, What Did You Want to Become?
When she allowed me to interview her to learn what makes her tick, she dropped a little bomb on me right away when it comes to her own story. I asked, “Did you always want to be a librarian?” and she said that no, she wanted to become a teacher.
Why didn’t you then?
I could not become a teacher because I did not posses the moral character.
What? That’s ridiculous! You’re the most refined, honorable person and people can see that as soon as they meet you. Who would say that and why?
Kathryn told me that she applied for her first job and the principal really liked her and wanted to hire her to teach French to high school students. But, because she had a year-and-a-half old daughter but no husband, she wasn’t hired for the job.
Why did you divulge that you were a single mother?
Because my mother told me to always tell the truth.
Unfortunately, her story spiraled from there. She lost her beloved mother and decided to return home to help care for younger siblings. One of her sorority sisters suggested she apply to the University of Illinois to earn a master’s degree in Library Science just before her mother’s passing and suddenly Kathryn was faced with a decision: attend school or stay at home. She passed on it and called them to say so.
Her story took a turn again when the department director contacted her to say that her credentials were impeccable and that they wanted her to attend school. When she told her story to them they counter-offered: take one semester off and when you come next semester we will hold a job for you, your scholarship, and we’ll find a way to help you with childcare for your daughter.
Stories have a way of taking a turn but Kathryn’s storytelling has a certain fidelity to it: she tells the truth. It’s her story and she owns it and only by being a reliable narrator does she find a certain amount of strength in how she lives.
When I went in to interview her I hadn’t expected finding such a common theme of single motherhood with her but when she shared her story with me I became aware of how powerful truth-telling and storytelling really are. They go hand-in-hand and she got to re-write her own and not be subjected to one that labeled her a woman of “poor moral character”.
In fact, she decided to become another character later in life: Harriet Tubman.
Please take a read and watch the other “Wells Fargo Presents – The Untold Stories Collection” in the series to read more about the #MyUntold Stories!
What about you? What stories have been left untold by you or your family members? Have you ever asked a stranger to tell you about their life and were surprised by it? You need to go talk to your local librarian. I'll bet they have amazing untold stories.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Wells Fargo Bank.