You Are My Families

January 1, 2014

The other day I had the joy of helping a mother and her three girls, each with a generous gift certificate.  This is a reading family, a book loving family in which each person clearly has their own unique and evolving relationship with books.

The youngest had just begun reading and she sat at our little table with a stack of books. She read a bit from each book softly, the words barely audible under her breath. She was clearly proud of her new ability and intent on finding a book in her comfort zone, not too difficult but challenging enough to hold her interest. The oldest daughter nearly skipped about the store, creating a huge arm filling stack, eyes sparkling brightly. Mom sought advice and gave the girls good input, clearly putting great thought into the unique needs of each child. The middle child was the most discerning: too long a book wouldn’t do, nor would  a too slim volume work. It couldn’t be too boring, too silly; nothing seemed to suit her. Mom and the other sisters were patient and helpful, making suggestions, reminding her of books she’d read and liked. Finally, when accounts were being tallied, she found, entirely unassisted, a wonderful new graphic novel from The Olympians series. This was perfect she’d decided and all of them, including mom, left happily anticipating their new reads.

While admiring this delightful bunch and thinking about the many other “book families” who frequent our store, I was taken back to a conversation I’d had a few years ago. It was late September in 2011 and Borders was closing. My daughter and I drove to the Mount Kisco store to see if there were any great bargains as well as possible booksellers looking for work. We found a few books whose prices were lower than our wholesalers and a couple items that satisfied my daughter’s ‘need right now’ whims.

We stood in a long line when the cashier looked past the faces of a few people ahead of us. “Hey” he smiled, and while he looked a bit familiar, I couldn’t quite place him. Our turn came to pay and he gave my daughter a huge grin. “My goodness you’ve grown!” he remarked. Seeing the puzzlement on my face he said ” White Plains Borders, you used to come there with your whole family. You’d stay for hours.” Suddenly I recognized him as a very nice and helpful bookseller “And your brother, (he turned to my daughter) well, he must be in college by now … right Mom?”

I swallowed hard as my eyes filled, we’d spent so many happy hours there, browsing, reading, sharing. I began to stumble over my words, always fearful of people’s reactions … “We, um, well, the sad story (I ease them in slowly, it’s like landing a plane) well, we , actually, we lost her brother two years ago. He had a seizure in his sleep.” “Oh no,” the kind bookseller looked stricken “I’m so sorry …” “No, no, ” I replied “I’m so grateful for you remembering us.”

And then, the tears on both sides of the counter breaking down social boundaries, he shared his memory of us as “his family.” “In the store we each had favorite customers and families and you guys were like “my” family. I always loved when you came by, which was a lot, and your kids were so nice, and they loved books, and you were all so happy and always having a good time. And he used to wear them funny pants,” (he looked suddenly apologetic but I laughed, remembering our boy’s penchant for “easy on” clothes) ” … and he’d get excited and kinda jump around,” (yes he did, my joyful kid). And the tears streamed and I thanked this sweet man for the gift of his memory.  He remembered. He’d seen us.

And on this sad and happy transition into a New Year , just to say, to “my families,” I see you.

Happy New Year.

2014

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Mother Love

April 28, 2012

With Mother’s Day around the corner I’m thinking about the unconditional, all encompassing love we feel for each of our children. There are wonderful mothers in books, from Marmee of Little Women to the fierce “Not my daughter!” Molly Weasley in Harry Potter.

An old Chinese proverb tells us “There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it.” And then there’s the angrily protective Mrs. Jumbo, defending her darling large-eared baby from the teasing crowds.

Like many little girls, I easily expressed my own motherly instincts with a favorite doll. I took her everywhere, including our community center in Allentown where we attended the local pool.

One day, amidst the splashing crowds, our play was interrupted by the crackling public address system announcing a Beautiful Doll Contest at 2 o’clock. My sister rolled her eyes as I pleaded with my mother to let me enter the contest with my beloved doll.

My mother pointed out the little girls in party dresses and their fancy expensive dolls (Madame Alexander was all the rage at the time). Nothing would deter me from presenting my own beautiful baby of mottled vinyl, dripping wet and naked, her hair chopped by me several days before.

According to family lore, I sat proudly and utterly unaware of the chuckling in the audience and among the judges. While the other girls held their fancy dolls awaiting the golden trophies lined up on the table, a kindly judge reached into his own pocket and awarded me a quarter for the Most Loved Doll.

I bought my sister ice cream with my prize money and smiled adoringly at my prize winning baby.

May each of you be an adored child. It’s everyone’s birthright.
Happy Mother’s Day.