Years ago, I was working for the State of Idaho, mentoring child care providers. The job took me all over the eastern part of the state. One day when I had some time to kill, I wandered into an enormous old used bookstore. The building looked and smelled like some kind of old-time saloon in a ghost town. Ancient, dusty and dark. Hundreds of shelves held books by the thousands, from floor to ceiling. The aisles were lit by an occasionally bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was early spring and chilly outside. It was nearly as chilly inside. Customers wandered the aisles in jackets and sweaters, clearly used to the lack of heat in this store.
The owner was seated in a ratty old armchair, reading in front of an electric heater. He was in his 60s, with long grey hair, drawn back in a ponytail. He was wearing a brown cardigan sweater, khakis, and brown loafers. He peered over his glasses, at me, sizing me up.
“I haven’t seen you in here before,” he observed.
“That’s true, I have never been here before.” I felt a bit like I was in front of the gatekeeper, deciding whether or not he would let me pass.
“Well then, what are you looking for?” He demanded impatiently.
Suddenly, I had no idea. I wasn’t used to interrogation while shopping and he took me off guard. “Um, I don’t know. I guess I am just looking.”
"Well, what are you into? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? Romance? Autobiographies?” His tone was one of irritation.
“Actually, I am into the occult. Metaphysics. Things like that.” I wondered if my response would be acceptable or if he would laugh me out of his store.
Instead, the old man looked surprised. His look of annoyance shifted to one of understanding. Suddenly I felt like we were kindred spirits in some way. He directed me to the aisles that would most likely have what I was looking for, made me promise that I would ask for help if I needed it, and went back to his book.
I wandered quietly. Most of the customers were very quiet too as if we shared reverence for a place of books and knowledge. After looking through many books, something interesting caught my eye. The book “The iChing of the Goddess” by Barbara Walker beckoned me. My mom was studying the iChing at the time. I knew that she would love this book and Mother’s Day was near.
I approached the old man yet again, prepared to purchase the book. He looked it over, rang $14.95 into an old, yellowed cash register, then paused, with a troubled look on his face. “This is a first editon.”
“Oh really? That’s cool. It looks like a wonderful book.”
Still looking hesitant, the shop keeper said, “It is out of print. You can’t even get this book anymore.”
“Even better,” I exclaimed, so happy to have found this book.
“You know, 14.95 is really expensive for a used book. If you don’t want to buy it, I would gladly hold onto it and you could come in and copy down anything you want from it.” He was holding the book against his chest now as if he was not going to let it go.
“Well, it is a gift, for my mom. You see, she is a teacher and she adores books. She has hundreds of books in her collection and I know that she would cherish this one.”
“Oh!” His eyes brightened. “A teacher, huh? Well, she will take good care of this book then. That makes me feel better.” And with that, he accepted my money and sent me out the door. On one hand, I was thrilled to have the book. On the other, I wondered with amusement what it was about me that he did not trust with a 30-year-old, first edition iChing book.
As I expected, my mom was delighted by the book and even more delighted by my tale of how I acquired it. She loved the content of the book, as well and it did indeed become a cherished book in her collection.