Desperate Want? Or Regular Want?

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 19, 2013

Our bookstore’s town of Shelburne, Vt., celebrated its 250th birthday this weekend. I always forget that American towns can be older officially than the United States itself (probably because I grew up in latecomer states Arizona and California) so I had a bit of a shocked moment doing some math before reassuring myself that I am not 13 years older than I thought I was. But I digress. The celebration brought people from near and far, and the sales weekend was fun and brisk. With all the families filling the store together, we had some memorable moments.
A mom and dad and their three kids (ages 4, 6, and 8) were in the store picking out books. The dad was reading to his four-year-old daughter while I helped the mom and her two sons. They assembled a stack of possibilities to choose from, each chose their allotted couple of books. But the eight-year-old was unhappy. He had an urgent whispered conversation with his mother, and then I heard her say to him, “Desperate want? Or regular want?” Instead of immediately rattling off “Desperate want! Desperate want!” her son actually stopped and took some time to consider, and concluded that it was a regular want. They put the item on a wish list at the store to come back for another time. I loved that this family had developed a shorthand system for delaying gratification in a way that seemed to work for all of them.
Another customer, a 10-year-old girl, was looking at books and had assembled a little stack. She was calculating how much she had to spend and how much the stack would cost, and then discovered that yet another book she had been looking forward to had a new addition to the series. “That could be my $10 book,” she muttered to herself. I had to ask, “Your $10 book?” She said, “I play the violin, and every time I practice 30 days in a row without missing, I get $10 to spend at a bookstore.” I loved that! One of our staffers, David, is a high school senior who is a wicked saxophone player and practices six hours a day. “I want in on that deal!” he told the girl, who beamed.
A young man in his 20s with a friendly mountaineering beard came up to order a fancy bird atlas for his mother’s birthday. He was such a nice guy, browsing around the store with his girlfriend, and we chatted for a while. When I asked for his name so I could tag the order, he said, a little shyly, “Well, you probably have my parents’ names in there.” When he told me who they were, my jaw actually dropped with surprise and recognition. “You’re little Zachary?!” I said. “Noooo!!” We’d known him during our Charlotte years from a little kid until his early teens. The last time I’d seen him, he was about 13 (and beardless). Now that he’d reintroduced himself, I could see that his sweet smile was the same one he’d had as a little guy. He told me all about his life out west working for a mountaineering organization and gave me a big hug before leaving the store. I had the happiest glow, like an aunt with itinerant nieces and nephews who crop up unexpectedly.
My very favorite event over the weekend was a chance to catch up with a writer friend from the Vermont College MFA program several years ago, who now lives in Calgary and was traveling through the U.S. toward Montreal with her fantastic family. Trina’s two daughters are 10 and 6, and we had a blast finding them books to read. Trina also somehow managed to find a kids’ book on the Canadian boreal forest, which has been sitting on our shelves for 10 years at least and has such a skinny spine you can’t even read the title, especially on a crowded shelf chock-full of books — all thicker and more assertive — about habitats. Really, I couldn’t have found that needle in a haystack in the store if I were looking for it; Trina and her family must have been a “desperate want” home for that little book.

2 thoughts on “Desperate Want? Or Regular Want?

  1. Chryselle

    Lovely piece! This is an excellent example of why bookstores have such a special place in our lives which online purchases can’t replace.
    PS: You must really have a social networking share button for your articles. Makes spreading the word so much easier 🙂


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