I did not grow up in the south, but my parents did, so I like to claim a little southern heritage. When my kids were younger, I loved reading them books set in the south — willing into their souls the humidity, barbecue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rocking chairs found on great big porches. They enjoyed hearing how my grandparents called me “Sugar,” and I felt it vitally important they understand that Missouri peaches just might be better than the famed Georgia peaches. (It’s true – no offense to Georgia.)
I’m a big fan of Barbara O’Connor’s novels — whether they’re explicitly set in the south or not they feel southern, and when I pick them up I know I will enjoy them. So as soon as I heard her latest book, Wish, was coming out, I put a reserve on it at the library, where it was already ordered for when it came out months down the road. This is my system so I don’t forget about great books coming out. (Which seldom happens — for the really great books, anyway — but maybe that’s because I use this system, who knows?)
By the time the library notified me my copy was in, I’d already bought the book and read and loved it. So I pulled my reserved copy off the hold shelves and went to the check-out desk to let them know I didn’t need it anymore. I took my place in line behind a little girl standing with her mother. She was wearing a winter coat even though it was about sixty degrees that day. Minnesota had a lovely extended fall this year, which Minnesotans were in awe of as we ran around in our short sleeves almost to Thanksgiving, but newcomers still thought it was cold.
I heard the girl’s mother talking to the librarian. Her voice was a gentle rocking chair voice. They were signing up for library cards. The girl stared at me, eyeing me up and down. Somewhat suspiciously, perhaps. Maybe it was my short sleeves.
She looked at Wish, which I was holding down by my side. “Is that book about a dawg?” she asked, tilting her head the same way as the book.
“There’s a dog in it, yes. His name is Wishbone,” I said, pointing to the beagly looking dog on the cover.
“What’s that girl’s name?” she asked pointing to the girl on the cover with the dog.
“Her name is Charlie.”
“That’s a boy’s name,” she fired back.
I handed her the book because I could tell she wanted to look at it straight on.
“Her mama named her Charlemagne. She liked Charlie better,” I said. “It’s a really good book.”
“What’sitabout?” she asked all in one word.
“It’s about wishes…and friends…and home…and family. It’s about a girl living in a new place and she’s not sure if she likes it or not.”
“Does anything bad happen to that dawg?” she asked warily.
“Nope,” I said.
She handed the book back to me.
“Maybe you’d like to read it?” I said. “I’m not checking it out, I’m returning it.” It was my turn at the library desk.
I explained to the library worker that I didn’t need the book and asked if the little girl walking toward the door with her mother could check it out instead. Alas, someone was waiting for it, and things happen in certain orderly ways at the library, so they couldn’t check it out to her. I decided not to be irritated by this and checked it out anyway since it was still technically my turn.
I followed the girl and her mother out the door to the parking lot and gave them the book. I told them I borrowed it for them and I told the mother I thought she’d do a great job reading it out loud. I told the girl I thought she would enjoy it a lot. They both thanked me. The mother said, “Bless your heart!” about five times.
And my heart was blessed.
“What if they don’t return it?” the library worker said when I walked back in the library. “It’s checked out on your card.”
“If they need to keep it, I’ll pay for it,” I said.
We’ll find out in a few weeks, I guess. But I’m not worried.