by Jennifer Saylor
North Carolina, USA
I love books, and reading means a lot to me. In my early twenties, I worked in a bookstore but made a very low wage, so I mostly checked out books I wanted to read from the library. Only on rare occasions could I dare the luxury of new or used books.
One day, having some rare extra income to spend, I visited a local independent bookstore. The store’s proprietor was a friendly, white-haired retiree named Hazel. He sat reading the paper and making friendly small talk as he smiled and glanced over black hornrimmed glasses. His shop was rich with interesting books, and it proved an all-time lucky book-hunting day.
There were three hard-to-find books I’d dreamt of for months, as well as two paperbacks I was dying to read. Intensely pleased, I walked up to Hazel to pay. We chatted, and when he learned that I too was a bookseller, he gave me a “colleague” discount.
When I opened my checkbook, the bomb dropped. I’d just used my last check at the grocery store; never carried cash, and had no credit cards. I had no way to pay for the books, and no clue where to find an ATM nearby.
Miserably, I realized I’d have to put the books on hold, where they might languish days or weeks until I could return. My heart sank to think that my newly found treasures wouldn’t be in my hands that evening, if ever. When you find a prize you want it then, especially when you’re young, in a hurry, and have few material pleasures.
Explaining to Hazel that I had no way to pay, I asked him to please keep the books on hold until my return. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You can pay me later.”
What I said right then I no longer recall. I did thank Hazel sincerely, and the books came home with me. At my apartment, I sent Hazel a check and enclosed a note thanking him for what he had done.
I was born in the sixties, an era where people seemed to trust one another less than before. I’d thought I had missed an innocent world: a world of unchaperoned kids making morning rounds with the town milkman, and candy stores with one-cent goodies. I’d thought that innocence was gone forever.
But it wasn’t. Hazel probably wouldn’t have suffered greatly if I’d never paid up, but he didn’t have to make a gesture of trust in a disappointed young woman, letting her leave with books she wanted with all her heart.
Some of the innocence of “the good old days” is still with us. I am reminded of it every time I look at my bookshelf.