From the gradually shrinking pile of children’s books that has sat cluttering our living room for the last few weeks, I extracted four abridged classics – Gulliver’s Travels, The Time Machine, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allen Poe. My son Theo hasn’t shown much interest in reading them, so I decided to donate them to the school library where they will be available to other kids to read – and to Theo too if he changes his mind. When I went to school to pick up Theo, I stopped by the library to see if Pati, the library aide, was there. A mother herself of a high school student who attended our sweet little elementary school a few years back, Pati is a wonderfully warm, friendly presence in the library both to children and parents alike, and she has always been very sweet to Theo. A couple of years ago I got to know her at lunch times when I was helping the kids with recycling. We chatted occasionally and I mentioned to her that I’d like to hold a “recycled” book sale to help the library and the school, and within a few months we were collecting used books from school families. Pati pulled the ones she needed for the library and we sold the rest at a school event, making a few hundred dollars for the school. Without her valuable and industrious help, I would never had been able to pull off such a book sale. More importantly, by working with her, I got to know her better and appreciate what a smart and dedicated woman she is, especially to a school that through no fault of its own can’t guarantee her job from year to year.
As I approached the library, my heart sank. Posted on the door was a sign reading, “The Library is Closed.” I stood frozen to the spot for a few seconds. It wasn’t 4pm yet, so the library should still have been open. I asked two little girls standing outside if the library had just closed. They didn’t seem to know. Theo was waiting for me out in the car, so I couldn’t stay in the school much longer. Where could Pati be? Why wasn’t she there for me in my moment of Giveaway need? If she had left for the day already, what was I going to give away instead? My plan wasn’t working. I didn’t have another good idea, and the day was getting late. I started to get flustered and tried to remember what other items I had in my car and to whom I might be able to give them now. Just then, another door opened – the door to the teachers’ bathroom. It was Pati! I shouted out to her, a bit too shrilly perhaps, and she turned around and gave me one of her warm, generous smiles. I ran up to her with the books and asked her if she’d like them for the library. She said yes, she could take them. I almost hugged her, but I realized that I needed to calm down and act normally. It was just a donation of a few books to the school library. As I said goodbye to Pati, it occurred to me that, although I am loving this Giveaway project, sometimes I let it add a bit too much drama (mystery and terror even!) to a mundane activity like picking up my son from school – drama that really is best left in the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and other great authors.