Generally, the bookseller is supposed to provide the service to the customers. We are expected to keep up the latest books, try our hardest to recommend books they will love, and much more. But sometimes our customers see that we need help and lend a hand.
I was at the coffee shop on Friday and two customers, Alison and her teenage daughter McKinley, were there. They motioned for me to come over and told me that they needed to return a book. This is generally not the way I like to begin my day, but my mood improved when Alison noticed that I was favoring my right shoulder.
“When we return the book, I’ll work on you.” I should mention that Alison does Thai massage. The thought of her helping my aching shoulder more than made up for the return. Alison was our very first customer in 1996. She did not come on the first day, she actually called three weeks before we opened. She brought McKinley, who was two months old at the time. We tried to convince her we weren’t really ready to have customers come in. She explained that she was going to Germany for several months and wanted to see the new bookstore.
We relented and let her in. She was appreciative and had a lengthy discussion with Elizabeth about classic books that she thought we should have. We had them, we just hadn’t unboxed everything yet. Alison let us know she was an author, but in a casual way, not in a “you must carry my books” kind of way. This was my introduction to Alison, who would be a constant in our lives ever since.
Alison is the author of one of my favorite picture books, The Drums of Noto Hanto. This book came out in 1999 and is a simple story about how a Japanese village fended off attacking samurais by beating their taiko drums and donning masks. The book’s message about nonviolence was fabulous, a message in 1999 that resonates even more loudly today.
We had one of our best events with Alison and that book. Two taiko drummers set up outside the store and drummed out the book. It was a traffic-stopping event that kids still remember. The kids had masks and the drumming was literally heart-stopping. We all felt the drums; Alison’s reading was inspired and every person at the event understood how the small village could have saved itself. I loved that the message was so clear, and based on a true story, that everyone understood its importance.
While Alison worked on my shoulder we talked about our love of The Drums of Noto Hanto. By the time she was done, I could actually raise my arm over my head for the first time in weeks and I had a great memory of a wonderful book that I hope someone brings back in print.