A resolution kept, a book returned – 68 years later

Published: January 2, 2006 | 3160th good news item since 2003

As a St. Vincent’s High School senior in 1938, Lois Lyttle checked “The History of England & Great Britain” out of Vallejo’s John F. Kennedy Library.

Recently, she fulfilled her 2006 New Year’s resolution early by returning it, just 68 years overdue.

“My son’s been after me to return it for the past three years, and this year seemed like a good time to bring it back,” said Lois (Lyttle) Swanson, 83, of Daly City. “It had been in a box in the attic somewhere, and my son ran across it and said I had to bring it back.”

Swanson said she checked the book out for a report and was supposed to return it Sept. 12, 1938, but, said her son Jim Swanson, 50, life overtook her and she forgot.

“She was 16 and in high school, and she just got busy – she got a lifetime of busy-ness,” Jim Swanson said.

Lois Swanson said the book was packed in a box for moving and forgotten.

“We moved a couple of times that year,” she said. “First to one of the new homes they were building on Tuolumne Street. But that turned out to be too far to get to school, so we rented a house closer in until I finished high school. Then I graduated from high school, went to nursing school and joined the army in World War II, and when I got out, my father had moved to San Francisco.”

By that time, “The History of England & Great Britain,” published in 1914, was just about the last thing on her mind, Lois Swanson said.

The daughter of a Vallejo native, Lois Swanson said her father owned the Vallejo Steam Laundry on Pennsylvania Street, and the family all lived nearby.

“I was born on Pennsylvania Street. Vallejo was a small town then and I used to say I had an uncle on every corner,” Swanson said. “When I was little, the laundry still had horses and carriages in the back. I remember my grandmother’s phone number was 29. My father had a store on Georgia Street, and the phone number there was 242. It was a small town and everybody worked on Mare Island.”

Growing up, Swanson said she was not allowed to wander past Santa Clara Street and Georgia Street “because the sailors were down there.”

But she joined the military after nursing school.

“I served in Southern California and then was sent to the Philippines where I became ill, and they sent me home, and I was discharged,” she said. She added that she’s planned to return to nursing school but met her husband Bill while shopping for a car. Four children followed, “so I never made it to U.C.,” she said. Bill Swanson died 13 years ago.

After sending her last child to college, Lois Swanson went back to work at a large San Francisco hospital, retiring in 1984 after 20 years.

“The hardest part was raising the children, but I’m glad I had them now,” she said, adding that she also has five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Jim Swanson said they decided to make a family reunion out of returning the book, and it took a couple years to get everyone together. It worked out for Dec. 23, 2005. The library was alerted in advance, he said.

“We drove around her old neighborhood, to her old school, and then to the library with the book. The librarian was quite delighted to waive the late fee,” Jim Swanson said.

JFK manager Linda Mattchette said she doesn’t recall ever getting a book returned quite so late before. Before this, the latest was about 40 years overdue, she said. Since the book is no longer in the system, Mattchette was able to waive the fine, but she calculated it anyway, and at 5 cents a day it came to about $1,200.

“She came in and said, ‘I want to let you know, I have a very long overdue book,'” Mattchette said. “She put it on the counter and said she was sorry for keeping it so long.”

If the book had been returned anonymously, considering its age, it would have gone to the Friends of the Library for its book sale in March, Mattchette said.

Lois Swanson donated $20 to the library’s children’s fund and bought the book back, she said.

“I felt more embarrassed than anything, with everybody looking at me,” Lois Swanson said. “But the library was very nice.”

Published in Honesty
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