Monday, October 24, 2016

What is the Best Gift I've Ever Received #PNIWritingChallenge Day 8

I'm going to write on the assumption that Randy Brown, our current writing challenge creator, means a material gift. If not, this post will get all mushy and there will be tears and an outpouring of emotion. It's Monday, folks. I'm not sure I can face all that right now. 

One gift comes to mind when I think about this topic. I am surrounded by so many kind, sweet people in my life. So many of them have been incredibly thoughtful when it comes to giving me things - but this one really stands out for me.

At the end of 2011, we moved to Linden, Germany. We visited the library on the Ramstein AFB a lot, but I liked going to the one on Vogelweh much more. They had this big wooden bin just inside the door where patrons would come and drop off books they no longer wanted. There were books of all kinds in there; cook books, self-help, comics, fiction, paperbacks, hardbacks ... you name it, they were there. We found some favorites written in German, (The Green Mile by Stephen King was one of them) as well as some text books. I donated a lot of things myself in the hope that someone else might find enjoyment from a book I no longer had room for, or ones that my kids had outgrown. 

One day, the kids and I were perusing the bin. I spotted a paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird and picked it up. I was excited to find it, but Scott, who was eight at the time, rolled his big blue eyes at me and said, "How many copies of one book does a person need?"  I shrugged and told him, "This book is my favorite. I can never have too many copies of it." A librarian I'd seen there many times was walking behind me and heard the two of us talking. She stopped and asked what book we were speaking of. When I showed her she smiled. I didn't know what she was thinking at the time. I was just happy to have found a treasure - even if my eight-year-old thought I was nuts.

That librarian was Holly May, and over the course of the two years we lived in Germany, she became one of my most cherished friends. When we met, she was undergoing chemotherapy and had gone through a masectomy due to breast cancer. Holly is the most vivacious person I've ever met. She smiles. She's bubbly. She's hilarious. She makes me laugh - oh lord, she makes me laugh. She's real. She tells you what she thinks about things. She doesn't mess around. She's a writer, and a wig maker. She makes costumes and she bakes. She's lived in some pretty fantastic places. She's a Marine. She's pretty remarkable is what she is.

It wasn't long after she'd overheard Scott and I talking that she stopped me and asked me why To Kill a Mockingbird was my favorite book. I'm sure I got all dreamy eyed when I answered her question, and I probably sounded all kinds of goofy. If she thought so, though, she didn't mention it. She was a librarian and she was my friend. Her asking me about my favorite book didn't seem at all unusual to me at the time and I'd forgotten she'd asked even before I'd left the library.

Holly started a writing club. I'd just published The Color of Thunder not long beforehand, and it was really fun to sit and talk with other writers. Some had been published already; both traditionally and indie, and some were writing wildly successful plays while others were poets. We gathered once a month and I met some very creative, talented people whom I'm happy to say I'm still in touch with.

One day as I was leaving the library, Holly took me into her office and handed me a hard cover copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was in pristine condition - the book jacket perfect without any tears or creases. When she opened the cover, though, my eyes filled with tears and I felt my chest tighten. It had been signed by Harper Lee. I felt this way about it even though I didn't realize at that moment that she was giving the book to me.

When she told me she wanted me to have it I was overcome with emotion. I couldn't believe that Holly would even think about giving me something as special as this. There was much hugging, and crying and astonishment - those last two all from me.  

I was a blubbering mess, and I laughed and smiled and cried all the way back home. I remember it well. Steven was concerned when I got to the house, thinking something was wrong. When I told him what Holly had done, when I showed him the book, he was as surprised as I was. He was probably the only other person who understood just how meaningful this gift truly was.

Okay. So much for keeping it unemotional on this Monday morning, right?

Holly gave me something else that is incredibly special.

Along with a display box for the book, she gave me a sheet of postage stamps featuring the unforgettable Gregory Peck in his role as Atticus Finch. She knew I would love them. I really do. They both hang proudly in my office. 

I've told Holly thank you for these gifts numerous times. I'm not sure if she really understands just how much her thoughtfulness means to me. That copy of To Kill a Mockingbird will always claim a very special part of my heart, and I will treasure it always. Much like I do Holly herself.