The other day I found exactly what I was looking for in a used book store. It was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
The store owner, sitting behind his desk pecking away at an ancient computer, jumped to his feet when I asked for help. He zigzagged through the store, zeroing in on the one remaining copy, perched high up on a shelf somewhere in the back, sideways, all the while remarking he didn’t think he had any copies left. But boy, there were a lot of them around a few years ago, weren’t there, he said.
But there it was and I think we both felt we had won a little prize. We had a chat about used books and their stores, and how they always smell so comforting. I told him how I used to work in a tiny used book store right beside Peddler’s Pub downtown, which is now a shiny, metallic looking gym. I asked him if he knew Neil, the owner who hired me way back then, whose last name is gone forever from my mind. I was a woman expecting her first child and expecting only to be back in Halifax for six months or so, while her husband became more Anglican. He hired me anyway and he and I and Brent would have fun, warm talks. He thought we were weird I think, but he liked us, especially Brent I remember.
Neil had a lovely wife with long blonde hair and a pet ferret. She and I became friends and I remember going to visit her on a long bus ride. She died, the book store owner, told me. Of cancer, he thought. And this news triggered off a long ago memory of knowing she was not well, even back then. I remember that Neil carried a sad burden. I remember him buying her earrings from the Pier One that also used to be on Granville Street. And I remember him saying she probably wouldn’t like them, because he was one of those husbands who never could pick out things his beautiful wife liked. I took the book I had bought for my new friend, and one I picked up for myself too, and headed back down Inglis Street, thinking about the treasures you find in used book stores.
For a simple trip from Toronto to Halifax, it certainly involved a lot of cancelling, delaying, waiting, boarding, fretting and running. It was easier to fly home from Cambodia. But happily, last in is first out, or so I learned about luggage. I also learned that even, nearing 50, I can still show up with my shirt on inside out.
So far, during this trip to Halifax, I made a point to step inside King’s College Chapel, where Brent and I married 26 years, one month and one week or so ago. It was the same beautiful, dusty, churchy, old, quiet, lovely spot. As I stood there watching the light flow through the old windows, remembering, a young couple walked quietly in. They asked if I worked there. I smiled and said no. They explained they wanted to marry in this very chapel. I told them I already had. And that they definitely should.
I have a favourite editor. Probably all writers do. But this guy is sunshine. Every time I do a piece for him and read over his comments in the margins, I smile. Here are some snippets from his latest edit: He starts with a cheery “Hi Karen!” and then moves on to: “This was a lot of fun! I feel like turning on some music right now.”
The piece was about how to bring music into your home in a more intentional way, and all the benefits it brings. So, now I’m totally warmed up and beginning to lean back in my chair to soak it in, and he writes: “I have a couple of suggestions and a question.”
No problem, think I.
His very next comment is lovely again: “I like how you’ve built the scene.” He just said that to be nice.
What’s up next? This: “Love how you’ve set these two sentences up… Plus it acts as a great transition.”
These past months, my gobbling greedy self learned anew, and deeper than ever, how disappointment can punch you in the stomach. The deep, miserable kind. The cry loudly on your bed when you are home alone. The nose-running kind.
I felt like God had almost given us something amazing. But He shrugged and said “Nah” at the last moment and looked for someone better to give it to. That’s what I felt like. And the fact that I felt that particular cry-baby kind of thing, made me think that maybe what I think and feel about a lot of things to do with God aren’t quite right. Because, was I supposed to feel that way? Wasn’t that naughty and bad and selfish and stupid?
Then, instead of that Big Magical Thing I thought I had deserved to receive into my grasping hands, God gave me a small, tiny thing. A name. It dropped fully formed into my mind one morning as I sat sipping my breakfast tea.
Darlene. My old friend from years back. The woman who knew enough, even back then, to iron her second-hand dresses inside out so they lasted longer.
On a recent day, during a visit from my Mom, we travelled through Toronto via go-train, subway, bus, streetcar, taxi and a big chunk by foot all within the space of a few hours. We reached our destination: Canada Blooms. There we snapped shots of bouquets and table centres we liked, and then later limped our way through the Eaton Centre where we wandered, dishevelled, through a designer shin-dig at The Bay.
We collapsed in front of the tv when we finally made it back home.
I can’t remember what we watched that particular night, but it was likely an episode or two, or maybe even three, of the fourth season of House of Cards. Left all on our own, we blazed our way through the entire season that week, along with a 5kg bag of jujubes from Costco. And we started a frightening but manageable fire at a restaurant with a napkin, a bread basket and a candle flame.
It was a good week. She is a good mother. Not only because, but certainly partly because, she is a mother who will walk, subway, bus, streetcar, taxi, go-train and meander her way through a day, turning the ordinary into adventure at the drop of a stylish hat, worn jauntily to the side.