This whole week has been Old Home Week for me at the store. I’ve seen three kids who I’ve known for the entire 17 years we’ve been open, or, in one case, her whole eight years on the planet. There is something lovely to me about reconnecting with these young people who have such fond memories of the store. These are the kids who walk in and I leap to hug them because I know they’re only home for the summer or they’ve just grown up so much.
Young Helen came in the other day with her mom. What I liked about this, was the mom, Melissa, just sat in a chair and looked at books while Helen first bought earrings, then books. Helen strode confidently up the counter, put her genuine Louis Vuitton wallet down and regarded the earrings. Her mother must have heard me thinking that that couldn’t be a real LV wallet, because she practically shouted, “It’s not a knock-off. It’s from her grandmother.” Why an eight-year-old needs such a nice wallet is beyond me. But what further amazed me was it was full of cash, not birthday or holiday money, but $67 of the weekend’s limeade stand take. Pretty impressive.
After the earring purchase I tried to get caught up with her mother, which was only moderately successful, until I told Helen to go pick out not the agreed-upon one horse book, but two. (I cleared it with her mom first, I never suggest getting more books than I know will be allowed.) Helen clearly is a shopper. After picking out her books she came right behind the counter to watch the money part. She was well versed on how to swipe a credit card in the machine. Honestly, I was surprised to not find a black American Express card in the LV purse. There is something amazing about watching kids grow up. I’ve known her mom well before she got pregnant with Helen and she loves to hear that. And I love that Helen picked out her horse books and clutched them to her chest with a broad smile.
The following day I was at the restaurant next to the bookstore and saw 17-year-old Julia bussing tables, home from boarding school for the summer. It was early enough in the shift that we could talk. I remember this young woman when she was a grunting eight-month-old who would sit on the floor of the old store while her mom picked out books. The old store building is now a deli and Julia said she just can’t go in there. “I sat on that floor and grew up in there. I just can’t go in.” Then she totally surprised me by adding, “I still have No-Man.” I have to admit, I got a tiny bit teary when she said that. No-Man is actually a three-foot stuffed animal based on Raymond Briggs’s book The Snowman. That she still has it, and clearly still loves it, was simply wonderful. And then she said, “I still think of the bookstore as your house.” She called the bookstore Josie’s house for years because she honestly thought I lived there. To go from that to talking about where she’s thinking of going to college just about blew my mind.
Then the final young adult came in at the end of the day. Virginia walked up to the register asking for journals and we started chatting. When she was younger, Virginia and her twin sister Kate would walk to the store almost every week during the summer to get more books. She had just graduated from college. Her response to my shock at that (why does it seem like college takes kids two years these days?, or is it just my perception of time?) was classic and very kind. “I know, I’m old, right? Can’t believe it either.” We both laughed. I asked what she’s doing now and her deadpan delivery almost caused me to spit my coffee out. “I’ve triumphantly moved back in with my parents.” We just laughed and talked about books and jobs and the economy. She bought 12 small Moleskine journals for her backpack trip in Canada. As she was leaving she added, “I miss being able to walk here.”
Whether they’re becoming independent shoppers or they’re home for the summer, seeing them in the store and sharing fond memories with these young people just reminds how much the bookstore is a part of the fabric of their lives whether we know it or not. For so many kids, the neighborhood bookstore is the first place they go to by themselves. So, today, when a kid comes in with a ball of sweaty money, I’ll remind myself that this could be the very first time they’ve paid for something themselves, and hope in 10 years to see them about to leave for college, and reminiscing about that.