LIVONIA – When Patty Curran was five or six years old she checked out the book. “The Story of Hiawatha,” from Livonia Public Library.
“It is about an Indian man and the whole story of his life. It is a good book,” said Curran.
It was so good that the book stayed with Curran after her family left the area and through many life stages: her teens, into adulthood, a teaching career and two marriages.
Recently, after some 80 years, the book was returned to the library – along with a check to cover late fees for the long-overdue book.
“I just had a busy life and never got around to sending the book back, so I thought that I had better,” said Curran.
Curran, who will be 85 years old in August, said the book had been on her mind “as one of the things that I should take care of.”
Along with the book she sent a check for $350. “I figured the days. I did a penny a day but it probably should have been 2 cents a day,” said Curran.
Livonia Public Library Director Frank Sykes said he was not worried about any late fees - library staff didn’t know the book was missing - but shocked to get an 80-year-old overdue book.
“I was blown away. The first thing I did was called some of the board members and let them know. I took pictures of the letter and the second thing I did was I called her,” said Sykes.
Along with the book and the check, Curran sent a letter about herself and why she had the book for so long.
“She sent in a check for a good amount for a donation to the library,” Sykes said. “I wanted to make sure that was all right with her. We had a lovely conversation about the book and about the library. She was very nice.”
Hiawatha is best known for playing a key role in uniting the Five Nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk – into the Iroquois Confederacy. (The Tuscarora would later join the confederacy, forming in the 18th century what is now known as the Six Nations.)
As Curran grew into her teen years and became an adult, the book stayed with her. Then she began working as a teacher and was twice married (both spouses died, she noted in her letter to the library). Through it all, the book remained with her.
“I have been busy. I was a teacher. My husband and I also had a restaurant. He had other businesses and then he died and later I got married again,” said Curran.
Along the way, Curran moved several times. Packing up her belongings and the Hiawatha book and taking them to each of her new homes. She now lives in a retirement apartment, she said.
“I have just been busy and never got around to it,” she said.
Also keeping her busy, was a growing family.
“Between all of my families I have 10 kids, 24 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren so far,” said Curran, who added that her grandmother had lived in Conesus and an aunt in Livonia. Both are deceased.
As the years went by Curran said she was always reminded of the book she had never returned.
“Every once in a while I would see it on the bookcase and then I would feel guilty. It is just something that I should have done that I did not do,” said Curran.
Increasingly Curran said having not returned the book began to weigh on her mind.
“I did not think that I would get in trouble,” she said, “but I just thought that being a Christian person that I had better return it.”
At the library, Sykes said staff did not know the book was missing because anything before 2003 would have been kept track of by handwriting the book’s information on a card.
Library staff acknowledged the book is in pretty rough shape and don’t think it will be going back out to the public.
Curran apologized for the condition of the book in her letter to the library. “As you can tell it was much loved + read,” she wrote.
Sykes said he is considering doing something to make the book and the story behind it something that people across the area will still be able to read about.
“It might be something that will get donated to the Livonia Historical and Preservation Society with that little story. It might be something neat to have,” said Sykes.
In the meantime, Curran said there are no other outstanding library books in her home and she is glad to have returned the book.
“Libraries are a very important part of our lives I think,” said Curran. “I have used the libraries my whole life.”