Education has always been important in my family. Prior to the earliest time I can remember, I am told, my mother and father read to me nightly. My family has a deep background in books, my father being a collector and my mother working at a library. My father loves books, in every way I can think of. He loves to read them, as do the rest of my family, but he has a collector’s interest in books that we lack.
He once wondered to a local library to check if they had a book sale. They did indeed have a book sale, and he bought quite a many books from their shelves. Soon he became a volunteer, and then the organizer, and soon had his own key to the library.
As the relationship between my father and me goes, I started going with him to the book sale. I loved reading and I helped him a little also. We discovered that the special semiannual book sale was coming up. I came with my dad that morning and we began carrying boxes of books out to the tables. We observed a tag sale across from us that apparently went hand-in-hand with our sale.
I was given the job of collecting money, and the day was going well, for we had already made nearly four hundred dollars for the library. At one point a small boy began his ascent up the small hill from the tag sale. He was only seven or eight by my estimate, and he went directly to the table marked “children.” After a minute or two he had found four or five books that he liked, put them in a neat pile and started his way back down the hill to the tag sale.
Nearly a minute later he came back with a rather sad look on his face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him as he took the pile and placed the books back on the table. He shrugged and I pushed.
“You don’t want those books?” I asked. I could tell he was shy. We already had something in common.
“No, I can’t get them.”
“Oh? Why not?” I asked. I could sense that he wanted them.
“Because my mother won’t give me the money for the ‘stupid books,’” he answered.
“I’ll tell you what,” I began, “If you promise to enjoy the books, you can have them for free.” A small smile arose.
“Thank you, I sure will enjoy them.” He said and picked his books out of the pile. He smiled once more and walked happily down the hill. I felt rather good about what I had done at that sale and was mildly surprised to see the same small boy at the library nearly two weeks later. He read the books I had given him and he had come back for more. He knew there was a library, but told me that all the books were so big he couldn’t understand them.
“Did you try the children’s section?” I asked. He looked at me in confusion.
“What? I came from up the stairs,” he pointed, “I didn’t see any children’s.”
“Of course you didn’t. It’s down here.” I pointed him in the way of the children’s room. He seemed astonished at the number of books. I lead him through and explained.
“There are some books that are stories, called fiction, and some called nonfiction. Nonfiction is real. You can use those for help on school reports and stuff like that.” I showed him to the computer card catalog, which at that point in time was not a high tech machine to say the least.
“You can use this, by typing in what the title or the writer of the book is, to find something you want to read.” I showed him by demonstrating.
He looked pleased, like he was going to enjoy it. It was getting on to six o’clock, and I wondered why he was out so late.
“Do you have to go home to dinner?” I asked.
“No, we don’t usually have dinner as a family. My Mom works really late and…” he paused, “My Dad doesn’t live with me. My older brother usually fixes us something.”
“Cool. What’s his name?” I asked.
“Jamal, I like him.”
“Well, the library closes in a few minutes, but if you saw anything you wanted at the sale you can go get it.”
“But I don’t have any money.” He put his head down.
“That’s OK, just our little secret.” I smiled, and he returned it. Ten minutes later when he left he had 8 more books. I told him next time he came I would get him a library card.
That I did. I also found out his name: Freddie. He took out some books, and I warned him that he had to bring him back on time. He promised to. The next and last time I saw Freddie was when he came to return those books, nearly a week later. He was a bit reserved, but grabbed twelve books he liked from the sale.
“I’ll see you next time.” I told him but he didn’t turn back. To this day I don’t know why, but I suspect he knew he wouldn’t see me again.
I doubt that I’ll ever see Freddie again, but he made me appreciate my own position. I suppose that I helped him out by teaching him a couple of things and giving him some books he liked. Maybe I even made a difference, and while I do feel good about it, it makes me feel a bit sour. I wonder why young Freddie had to be given books by somebody he didn’t even know when my parents had given me books at the hospital an hour after my birth. Why did I get two parents who loved and cared for me and each other so greatly, but Freddie have a mother that worked all day long, and a father he didn’t know?
To this day I hope that Freddie learned at least one thing from me. A better word would be inherited. I hope that maybe he inherited that love of reading that is so prominent in my family, yet apparently so foreign in his.