Gifts from Customers (shelftalker)

Customers give me things. Some call from the Starbucks drive thru down the street: “I need a birthday present for an eight-year-old girl, she’s a really good reader. Can you have it wrapped and run it out to the car – the baby is asleep – and do you need coffee?”

Some give me colds. “Do you have any ACHOO!!! oh, sorry! tissues? We just stopped by to find something for Matthew, here, to do. He’s been home from school for two days with a fever, and is just getting so bored! I thought a trip to the bookstore might cheer him up.”

Lots of children bring us pictures they’ve drawn, which I tape to the wall behind the counter, after careful discussion and admiration of their subject and technique. Some young friends bring me “treasures” – a favorite was a little boy who came in with a baggie containing some red string, a rock and a little plastic wheel. When I asked him if he wanted me to trade him something for this gift (every children’s shopkeeper should have a drawer full of stickers and publisher swag for just this purpose), he said “No, you can just keep it up here to look at it.” And I did.

Often, children bring plastic bags of sticky pennies and nickels which they have earned for good behavior or potty training, and I carefully count them and then quietly swipe Mom’s credit card in exchange for their “prize”, and then I wash my hands. A lot.

One customer brings me Bibles. I don’t think that she is terribly concerned about the conviction of my faith -– it’s just her thing. She has a bunch of them in the trunk of her car, and when she needs to talk she drops by and buys something for her grandkids, and ask about my dogs. Then she goes outside, loads her bags into the car, and comes back to press a gently worn copy into my hands. I’m not really sure where they come from, but she always has a cardboard box full in the trunk, and I think she probably scatters them wherever she goes, and then they are donated back to the used bookstore down the street (at least that’s what we do) for her to purchase again.

Lots of them, bless them, bring us snacks. This week, we have a bag of Valentine chocolate kisses wrapped in pink foil, some homemade granola, and a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies (not the Samoas, though, because those went “missing” immediately, and I would be upset about it if I didn’t have a case on order). There’s a full shelf, too, of travel coffee mugs and expensive stainless steel water bottles…. those weren’t intended to be gifts, but after we’ve washed them and then displayed them on the “lost and found” ledge for a full season, some of them make their way home with staff members.

The most precious thing that they bring me, though, is their news. New jobs (one young mother is going back to work part time – much celebration) and pregnancies (which I usually guess, but never ever question until I’m told). This time of year, we see pictures of Prom-posals, and get to high-five kids wearing basketball medals around their necks on Saturday mornings, as they rush from games to birthday parties. Ballerina buns and glittery eyeshadow signal both dance performances and cheer competitions, and new casts and crutches announce ESPN-quality highlights from indoor soccer and volleyball tourneys. There is heartbreak, too, as we hear about grandparents in nursing homes, kids with scary diagnoses, and the usual gauntlet of disappointments that come with childhood and adolescence – made easier, I hope, by the recounting to an older mom who nods and gets the tissues and remembers those slings and arrows but is pretty sure that it will be OK.

I love all the things they bring (especially the coffee) but mostly I love that I can be in the kind of business that often feels like an extended family. And that’s the biggest gift – that all these people invite us in, and let us share their lives.

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