You never forget your first library, especially the one you walk to on your own, step through the doors with no adults trailing you, and enter a world of books with your brand new library card.

Mine was located in Oak Bluffs, on the corner of Circuit and Pennacook avenues, a one floor, one room magical land that was eventually replaced by a much bigger library on the outskirts of town.

When I was a young boy, spending summers living at my grandparent’s house just a few doors away, the old Oak Bluffs library was my spaceship, my time machine, my portal to other lands. It was where I went to spend time with pets I did not have, meet heroes and villains, and embark on adventures I would have been too afraid to take on my own.

It was also where I discovered Beverly Cleary, not in person but in her books. Her many, many books.

Ms. Cleary died last week, on March 25, at the age of 104. Her death inspired a visit with my younger self and the hours I spent each summer at the Oak Bluffs library. In the back, where the books for kids were located, I would creep along unseen behind the bookshelves, wandering among the titles searching for more and more books to read. Beverly Cleary, in her long and prolific career, was a constant, introducing me to Ralph S. Mouse, Henry, Beezus, Ribsy and, of course, Ramona.

In some of the tributes I read this week there was mention of the many letters she would receive from her fans. This struck me, as it had never occurred to me to write to her. To me, Beverly Cleary was a mythical creature, as much a work of fiction as her characters were. That there was actually someone out there, a human made of flesh and blood, writing these stories was simply too much to believe.

It had been a long time since I read her stories. I thought as a parent I would have the opportunity to revisit her books, imagined sitting on the couch with my children or snuggled on a palace of pillows during the bedtime routine, my kids and I roaring through the night with Ralph and his motorcycle, his ping-pong ball helmet securely fastened.

But it was not to be.

My son was an early reader and as soon as he graduated from me in the driver’s seat reading to him from Richard Scarry or the Berenstain Bears, he retreated to his room to read to himself, making his own choices and turning his nose up at anything I suggested.

My daughter has always liked to be the reader, even before she learned to read, demanding that I sit still while she read aloud stories she made up or later the actual words on the page. To be honest, I don’t like to be read to, I guess I take after my kids, and so I never suggested Beverly Cleary to my daughter, not wanting to ruin my fond memories of Ribsy with a fidgety experience of listening to my daughter sound out the words.

Sometimes, even parents get to be selfish.

And so, upon hearing of Ms. Cleary’s death, I decided to stay up late one night, after everyone else was asleep, and return to her world, led by my younger self. I chose a glass of milk instead of a late night glass of wine as I settled on the couch, imagining I was back at the old Oak Bluffs Library.

The thing about memory lane, though, is how crowded it gets, what with all the new developments popping up over the years. And so instead of hanging out with Ralph S. Mouse and the gang at Klickitat Street I ended up in a New Jersey dive bar, sharing a beer with a guy I have known since grammar school.

On the first day of fifth grade, the teacher asked the class what we did on our summer vacation. I raised my hand, waved it around vigorously and when called upon said I had read 50 books, lots of them by Beverly Cleary. Immediately, I heard laughing from the back row. When I turned around I saw it was my friend, who at the time I was just beginning to get to know.

“I don’t believe you,” he said out loud. “And besides, Beverly Cleary is a loser.”

If I had been braver or bigger I might have stood up for my hero after class. Instead, I put my head down on my desk and hoped the moment would fade from consciousness as soon as possible. It never did.

Last winter, in that time before Covid, I was back in New Jersey, having a drink with my old friend, a reunion a longtime coming. At some point, I mentioned that moment in class from four decades ago. He had no recollection of it. But as an apology he bought the next round.

Later in the evening, he mentioned some essays of mine that he had recently read, about our time together as kids, about parenting and one about a small wild bunny that for a time had adopted my family.

“That one was my favorite,” he said.

We toasted the career of Beverly Cleary then, two fifty-something guys in a bar, one who had never read her and one who had read everything she had written and could see the seeds of her influence in the pieces he wrote. I wish I had sent her a letter to tell her that. I’m sure she would have been pleased.