Bill Burns

Bill Burns was born and raised in Burlingame, California. He has been a teacher for Redwood City Library’s PROJECT READ since 1997, teaching parenting skills and poetry to the men and women in San Mateo County’s jails. 

Poems on Belonging

I AM FROM

I am from Erector Sets, adventure books, and asthma medicines.

I am from climbing trees, schoolyard basketball games, and a creek

I am from St. Catherine’s School, the Burlingame Fire Department, Burlingame Library, & The Burlingame Advance-Star Newspaper.

I am from William R. Burns, Sr., Semi-Pro Baseball Catcher.

I am from my mother saying, “Someday I hope you have children of your own.”

I am from rye bread toast and split pea soup.

I am from a place where a 15-year-old boy with no Driver’s License won a 1932 Chevy Coupe by selling the most magazine orders in July of 1957.
To Burlingame Public Library                
April 27th, 2019

You were my library 70 years ago in 1949.                                                                                                                                                   You were the place I’d go                                                                                                                                                                                         to escape into the pictures I found in the larger books                                                                                                                                  when I was having trouble with those bothersome words.

You see, I grew up in Burlingame & lived at 765 Farringdon Lane.                                                                                                       I attended McKinley School from Kindergarten through 2ndgrade,                                                                                                      and then transferred to St. Catherine’s for grades 3 through 8. I went from the casual “ Look Say” method of teaching reading used in public schools to the more strict phonics approach of a Catholic School complete with bi-weekly readings to assess student levels. Rather than learn how to read better, I learned how to be a good test taker as my test scores were always higher than my actual reading level. This is why I hungered for the stories I could make up by looking through the mostly pictures that were in this Burlingame library.

When I got my library card at age eight I would ride my 20 inch Schwinn Bicycle to this library almost daily. I finally finished my first chapter book when I was 8 and 1/2— it was Pecos Bill, the story of a cowboy who was so good with a rope that he could lasso cyclones and tame them.

After that book I started reading biographies of famous Americans, such as, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Abe Lincoln. I grew to love books and reading and decided to read all the books in the entire Burlingame Library. But this dream was dashed when I realized that my Children’s Library was only a small part of a huge adult library with an unconquerable number of books.

Still I kept visiting my library, reading books, and participating in the neat summer activities they offered. I remember the one where I was given a small 8 inch tall Indian Teepee, and I could earn stickers of Native American symbols to add to my teepee— I would receive one symbol for every two books I would read. This challenge carried me through a summer that otherwise would have been quite boring for me.

My early Burlingame Library experiences grounded me for a future of essays, tests, reports, and term projects through grammar school up to my mid-Sophomore year of high school when we moved to San Jose and another library.

I’m still proud of reading that Pecos Bill Biography, and I still had trouble lassoing some words. But things seemed to get easier through my years at Campbell Union High School and San Jose State College both from which I graduated. My early reading successes helped me with the reading and writing demands of becoming a teacher, Coordinator, Principal, Director,  School Administrator, and eventually a published Poet.

Thank you Burlingame Public Library for pointing me in the right direction at an early age.

Copyright © 2022 by Bill Burns. Used with permission of the author.