It’s the Beatles for Helen

The following is the second in the series in which I conduct flash interviews with members of the Topsham Public Library staff

When I was a teenager, I often heard my mother call up the stairs, “Jen, come set the table.” I think my mother hated telling me to do it as much as I hated doing it. See, my mother pays attention to detail, and I do not. I would plop the plates around the table, scatter some silverware, place napkins on the plates (this was probably the worst of my infractions in my mother’s eye) and call it good. My mother would check my work, and we would do it over again. Fork on the left, knife on the right, little spoon to the right of the knife, and napkins folded and placed under the fork. (I’ll not mention the ordeal when setting the table for the after-church dinners on Sunday and the additional silverware necessary for that.) I don’t worry about the details – I’m a big picture person. Thankfully, there are people out there, like my mom, who pay attention to detail, and Helen is one of them.


Helen is a New Jersey girl and, as it is with many of our Topsham residents, it was the Navy that brought her family to Maine. She has been with the Topsham Public Library for 19 years! It is all her fault that Cyndi, Lynne, Linda, and Julie work here, too. (And we are thankful for that!) Helen used to be the volunteer coordinator, and in that capacity, she brought the aforementioned on board, and eventually, they were each hired on as a member of the staff.

Helen’s responsibilities have changed since then, and now she is, what we call, a cataloger. I’m not sure of all the ins and outs of what she does, but I do know it is meticulous work and if Helen did not pay attention to the details, we would not be able to find the books, movies, cds, and/or all the other items we want in the card catalogue and Minerva sites.

Reading has always been a love of Helen’s. Her first favorite books that she can remember are the gothic romance novels by Phyllis Whitney. Bookstores weren’t around when she was young, so Helen had to go to the local drug store and search “the spinning things” for new books. Now, she loves horror, and Stephen King is her favorite author. (I asked her about Dean Koontz because I know she liked him at one time, but he has since fallen out of favor with her.)

Helen can scream! No, I have not heard her scream, but I know she can scream because in 1964 Helen went to a Beatles concert when they played at the Atlantic City Convention Hall! (I’m a bit envious myself.) We know a whole lotta screamin’ went on there. She promises me she did not faint, though.

If you were to hang out with the staff at the library, you would discover we talk about food a lot: “What’s that you’re having for lunch?” “What are you having for supper tonight?” “Have you tried insert name of restaurant here, yet?” “Did you see this new cookbook we just got in?” And on and on it goes. So, of course, I had to ask the important food questions. Helen prefers ketchup to mustard, and coleslaw instead of fries (personally, I never say no to fries). She will take her eggs scrambled, soup instead of salad, and Italian before Chinese food. No lobster dinner for Helen – she’ll take the steak.

There is one question I ask myself on a regular basis, and I asked Helen this question, too. “Helen,” I said, “If money were no object and you could do anything you want, what would you do?” She looked at me like I asked her what color the green grass was and said, “I would buy a house on the beach, so I could read a book.” Sounds good to me.