I am The Book Room Lady at the local humane society thrift shop (or charity shop, as they say in Britian).
As The Book Room Lady, I spend two afternoons a month sorting through books that people have donated. I have to decide which books to put on the shelves and which ones to put in the "FREE" box. Some I have to throw away because they are so mildewed or silverfish-infested that no one should take them home. But that's another post.
For every newly-donated book I shelve, I have to discard one we already have. We have limited space, so if I decide to shelve a newly-donated book, I have to remove a shelved one in that same category, eg. fiction for fiction, biography for biography, etc. Simple geometry: I only have X cubic inches of space for each category of book, so one in, one out.
I quickly screen the new donations for obvious faults you wouldn't believe I have to screen for: Does the book have peanut butter on it? Are the pages water-damaged? Cockroach chewed? But once a book has passed my screening, then I have to examine it more closely. That's when I make some wonderful discoveries because people tuck things into books.
I've never found money, although I've heard stories of purveyors of used books who have. I find lots of notes in nonfiction books, ideas the reader wants to remember, like "Good mutual funds for retirement," or "Possible paint colors for the kitchen." Occasionally I find shopping lists or to-do lists and wonder whether the groceries got bought or the chores got tackled. I sporadically find commercial bookmarks with insipid verses that make me cringe.
Sometimes, though, I find notes that are remarkable. Yesterday, in book on how to be a better father, I found two index cards. A boy's name was written on each, and then what appeared to be the result of the father's introspection after interviewing each son.
Bruce- Spend more time with him. Play video games with him. Invite him to go to the gym. Play basketball with him. Why don't I do those things already? Why did I not know that he wants to spend more time doing things with me?
Stephen- Praise him when he does something right. Listen to him when he has a problem. Don't try to fix it. Don't criticize. Just listen. What makes me always criticize him? Why am I acting like my own father? He always criticized me, never would listen to my problems without telling me what a screw-up I am. Why am I treating Stephen like my dad treated me? Why haven't I learned from his mistakes?
I wonder whether those boys are fathers themselves now. I wonder whether that man became a better dad than his own father was. God bless him. I hope he did.
But the note I found that has moved me most was one I found last spring. Written in an old book, on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old man's shaky handwriting, it read, "Dan Smith: a first-class man." Then it had a phone number.
A first-class man. Wow. To be called a first-class man is a thing devoutly to be wished.
I thought about "a first-class woman," but something changed for me in the translation.
I think of a first-class man as brave, strong yet gentle, humble, a man who spends time with his children and listens to them without criticizing, a man who would lay down his life for his family and friends.
I think of a first-class woman as wearing an elegant navy skirted-suit and heels. I see her directing a board meeting or speaking on behalf of endangered whales at a senate hearing.
I don't know why I have those pictures in my head, but I do.
Sitting there in the book room in the thrift shop, I picked up my cell phone and called the phone number listed as belonging to the first-class man. It was disconnected. I wasn't surprised. The first-class man probably died long ago. The old man who wrote the note probably died long ago, too.
The first-class man's name was so common that trying to find him or his family wasn't practical. So I put the note in my wallet, brought it home, and tucked it in a book of my own for safekeeping. To throw away a note with the name of a first-class man on it seemed... well... it seemed.... just WRONG. Maybe some day after I am dead and gone, a book-room lady will find the note as she goes through my books in her charity shop. Maybe she will take it home and tuck it into her own book to continue to keep it safe.
All summer and fall I have wondered what kinds of things one need do in order to be called a first-class man. I want to do those kinds of things, to be remembered in that way. I want to be that kind of person.
So tomorrow, and every tomorrow hereafter, I will try to do something befitting of my image of a first-class man. I will try to live my life so that although I happen to be a heterosexual woman, after I die, someone will think of me and tuck a piece of paper in a book, a piece of paper that says, "Millie Gore-Lancaster: a first-class man."