The Meeting of the Minds~ On Childhood Books

I no longer believe in coincidences. Since my mother’s death in November, I have been continually amazed by how God has been working in my life.  I believe in a God who cares about each of us and who, if we open our hearts up to him, takes a hands-on approach in our life.  By that, I mean he listens to our prayers and he guides us. He also brings special people into our lives, just when we need them.  I am more “open” since my mother’s death, and I sense His very real presence in all that I do, and in the people that I meet.

Yesterday afternoon I e-mailed my friend Jacki about my search for favorite books from my childhood. If you know me, you are well aware of how my childhood was defined by books and reading. Books were my friends, and until Junior High, my only friends other than siblings. I was especially drawn to books I could identify with; the poverty-stricken Pepper family in Five Little Peppers, the poor children in the Lois Lenski series of books, Betsy in B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. For weeks after reading Harriet the Spy I carried around a notebook and spied on the neighbors.

As a bookseller several years ago, I came across many copies of the wonderful books I had so loved as a child. I’d snatch them up at the many book sales I attended, and when I got home I’d sit in front of the boxes or bags of books and revel in the feel of the worn pages, the smell of the old book, and the delightful cover illustrations.

Then I’d promptly sell them.

I ended up selling every “good” book I got my hands on.

Why? Well, when you have many children and not much money, that is what you do; you make money where you can, and if a book was worth money, I didn’t keep it.  I could no more fill my shelves with Lois Lenski books than I could wear fancy jewelry or pay to have my hair done. It just wouldn’t be right when there were bills to pay and mouths to feed.

I no longer sell books, but I haven’t stopped attending book sales. Sadly, those gems of my childhood are harder to find. Libraries got rid of my favorites during those years when I was selling, and their “vintage” children’s books are long gone. But that doesn’t stop me from looking, everywhere I go. Every single thrift store, every garage sale, and each book sale I go to, I immediately head to the children’s books.  In the past five years I have managed to unearth a Harriet the Spy that is identical to the first one I read, a few Eleanor Estes books, some Lois Lenski titles, the B is for Betsy that I loved, and even the readers that I learned how to read from.  I have almost filled one shelf of childhood favorites and am ready to fill more.  It had just occurred to me recently that I might be able to find some of my childhood favorites on”Paperback Swap” :Swap Books for Free –, so I typed in a few of my favorite authors and came across an Elizabeth Enright title I had forgotten about: Then There Were Five. I’d always enjoyed books about sibling relationships and already had a copy of The Saturdays. Excited, I ordered it.

Then yesterday, within minutes of e-mailing Jacki about my yearning for some of those old childhood favorites, there was a knock on my front door. My husband answered it, and I heard a man’s voice saying something about PaperBack Swap. I joined my husband at the door.  There stood a big bear of a man holding a package that I recognized~ with the official Paperback Swap wrapper.  Seeing my confusion, the man hurriedly explained that he was excited to be able to hand-deliver a book after so many years of sending books all over the country.  I hesitated before stepping onto the porch with him. He seemed so genuinely pleased with himself and so eager to share his book.  How could a fellow book-lover be an axe-murderer?

And then this gentleman told us his story. (I am learning that everyone has a story to tell if we but listen)

He loves books. He’s been sending books all over the country and never met any of the people he sends books to.  He has Alzheimer’s. He and his wife are on the way to a wedding, their daughter’s wedding. They have 11 children. The words just kept tumbling out of him, and he didn’t seem to notice he had casually interjected the word “Alzheimer’s” in with the rest of what he was saying. A woman stepped out of the car behind him, regally bearing a lovely dress and hat.  I immediately wanted to invite them both in for tea.

“I told him not to scare you, but he was so intent on hand delivering this book.  Did he tell you? He has Alzheimer’s and we are on our way to our daughter’s. She will take us to the airport and we’ll fly to San Francisco for our other daughter’s wedding. I told him it would be unlikely we could find you, but we typed your address into the GPS and there you were.”

She, too, casually mentioned Alzheimer’s as if it were a common cold. My heart went out to this couple and I couldn’t help but admire their courage in the face of adversity.  They were traveling together, enjoying each other’s company, looking forward to a wedding.

And the husband had Alzheimer’s.

And he loved books and sharing his books.

It made me think of my mother after her terminal cancer diagnosis, and her determination to really LIVE whatever time she had left.

We spent a few more minutes on the porch together, talking about books, and cancer, and meeting new people. We didn’t mention Alzheimer’s.

“I have your address now,” I said to Pete. “Can I write you?”  He beamed with a delighted grin.  I just had to hug him. My husband didn’t mind; he was already hugging the wife.

As they walked away, the wife turned back to us, “People think we can’t be happy anymore. We are. We’re enjoying each other.”

David and I stood quietly on the porch, watching them leave, and thinking about the man’s diagnosis, and what it would mean for their future.  I reached over and took David’s hand in mine.

This morning I sent a card to my new friend, Pete.  Tomorrow I’m sending him a copy of God Makes Lemonade. I’m not exactly sure why this couple entered our life right now, but I am certain who sent them.

I had hoped the book would be an ex. library in good condition. I love the character behind ex. library books and the well-worn pages that are soft with handling from children who loved the book before me. I thought about how the man said he repaired books that were damaged.  I opened the package after they left, and was delighted to see it was an ex. library copy in very good condition.  I carefully and almost reverently slid it onto my shelf, the shelf that has room for one more book.

I wonder what that book will be.  I wonder if it will come from Pete.

5 thoughts on “The Meeting of the Minds~ On Childhood Books

  1. says:

    Great story; I’m so glad to know that there are still people out there who love the feel and smell of an actual book in their hand instead of on an electronic screen. I just went to a close out sale the other day that almost made me sad; another book store was going out of business.

  2. Carolyn Brooks says:

    Mary: What a wonderful experience! God truly does work in mysterious ways. People enter our lives at the perfect time that we need them, in the same way that we are led to enter other’s lives, to be there for them. I have lots of books also, and actually went to a bookstore over the weekend, and came out without buying anything. I told my girls, I guess I have all the books that I need, since I couldn’t find a book that truly caught my eye. God bless you & your family! Keep up the great writing!

  3. Jacki Lottes Webber says:

    What a wonderful encounter! Wish I could have tea with you AND Pete! Your writing, as usual, is beautiful. I got a book in the mail today, an ex-library, and after doing a quick 360 degree search to make sure I was alone, I had to open it and inhale! Yep! It had that wonderful scent and the lovely texture on each page. The softness of each page felt like sheets of silk, acquiring a softness from years of hands turning each page. I couldn’t help but zoom in on the picture of your shelf so I could read each title! Another abosolutely wonderful blog entry! jacki

  4. Beth says:

    First of all what a wonderful story Mary. Second of all I do believe that people enter our lives for a reason. Sometimes we don’t know the reason or maybe it might take a while for the reason to come to surface. Another thing, I just love reading kids books from when I was little too. They bring back such memories.

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