Elizabeth Bluemle - July 13, 2012

It’s not all books, books, books at an indie, people. Sometimes you find yourself learning the most interesting things about total strangers.
The last customers of the day on Thursday, for instance, were a baby named Bartholomew, his mother, and his mother’s mother. They were a relaxed trio, focused in the main around Bart, a handsome little guy with alert, inquisitive, thinking eyes and a fine head of blonde-brown hair.
The conversation started out typically enough, with a little chatter about books, the weather, compliments on the cute baby, whose name I would not know for a little while. The visiting grandma commented on the bookstore, wishing she had an independent in her town. Words about the inferiority of the e-reader were bandied about. We all waxed rhapsodic over the feel and smell of real books and the wonderfulness of libraries, and the grandmother said, “What else can you open up and just be transported away? You’re in a whole other world, just in a different world….” She drifted off, happily.
Then it got a little funny. As in quirky, unexpected, amusing.
I asked the baby’s name and received the marvelous four-syllable response, which led us to chat briefly about Cubbins and hats and oobleck (though not, surprisingly, Simpson). “We call him Bart,” said the grandmother, smoothing a stray lock of hair on the baby’s head. “That’s better than Thol,” I joked. “Or Mew,” said his mother. And then she got serious. “I wanted a name, first of all,” she said, “where the initials looked good together: B.R.H. Those are good initials. And they don’t spell something like A.S.S.” (I quote verbatim.) The grandmother caught my eye and shrugged.
The mom continued, warming to her subject. “And then I wanted — and this is a pet peeve of mine — I wanted a nickname where the first initial was the same as the initial of the first name. Not like William and Bill.” She let this sink in a moment. “Or Robert and Bob,” I added, helpfully. “Right,” she said. “That’s a big pet peeve. I’ve always hated that. Why would you have a name where the nickname started with a different letter?”
The grandma shrugged again, looking a little embarrassed. She said, distancing herself, “Who knew a person would think about these things?”
I loved this. I heartily enjoy a good pet peeve when it’s word-related, and even if I don’t share that particular irritation, I can cheerlead. “I hear you,” I said.
Then the mom put her finger in the air. “I’ll tell you something about me and books, though,” she said. “If I’m reading a book, and I’m not finished with it yet….” Her tone took a sudden turn for the ominous. “Don’t touch it.”
I had to know. “Are you afraid someone will lose your place, or put your book where you can’t find—” “No, it’s because it’s mine, just leave it alone,” she said emphatically. Her mother nodded in agreement, echoing, “Yes, mine, don’t touch it until I’m done.” This was clearly a shared, perhaps genetic preference, and I thought I caught Bartholomew giving a little nod.
I assured them that I, for one, wouldn’t dream of violating a person’s no-touch-book rule, and we all smiled. The three of them headed out into the lowering sunshine, waving their goodbyes. Well, Bartholomew had a little help from his grandma’s gentle guiding hand on his forearm.
I can’t help but wonder if he will grow up to love books as passionately—and perhaps as fiercely—as his matriarchy.

3 thoughts on “Idiosyncracies

  1. Morgan

    What a fun conversation! I’ve just this week opened a little fiction-only used bookstore in my hometown (Halifax, Nova Scotia), and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of my customers like that too. Chatting with other booklovers was one of the things I enjoyed most when I worked at a Chapters bookstore.
    Incidentally, my mother would agree about the initials issue. She considered naming me Victoria, but that would have made my initials V. D., which at the time had, er, embarrassing connotations. And just the other week, my partner and I were discussing how weird it is that some nicknames seem to have little to do with the names they come from (like Jack for John). As for not touching a book while I’m reading it, while that’s not one of my pet peeves, I can certainly understand how someone could feel that way!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Congratulations on your new used (ha) bookstore, Morgan! You will be amazed by the variety of conversations you find yourself in – one of the perks of the job, as long as you’re sufficiently caffeinated.

  2. Anita

    In college I had a friend whose initials were CAD. Her parents gave her an expensive set of monogrammed luggage, which she did NOT appreciate and refused to use.


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