Bookstore

The day the store opened, I was standing in line among the first customers. I was a young man, walking the aisles, running my hands along the books. And I was in heaven because I love books.

I am on my way to a birthday party. Before the party, I stop at the bookstore because I need to buy a gift. Which I completely forgot to do.

I’m a last-minute kind of guy. I didn’t even plan my own honeymoon until we were in the parking lot, leaving the reception. There were tin cans tied to my bumper.

My wife said, “Where are you taking me?”

I only smiled.

“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re probably taking me to Dothan, aren’t you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “It’s a surprise.”

And it was. For us both. We left for Charleston. Just as soon as I cancelled our reservations at the Super 8 Motel in Dothan.

I’m walking into the bookstore. I know it sounds crazy, but I love this place. I remember when they built it. They spent months clearing the forest behind my old church to build this strip mall.

The day the store opened, I was standing in line among the first customers. I was a young man, walking the aisles, running my hands along the books. And I was in heaven because I love books.

I even filled out a job application. A week later, a man called my house and asked me to come for an interview. I hung up the kitchen phone and danced a jig.

For the interview, I wore my nicest shirt and my finest tennis shoes. My appointment was early in the morning, before the store opened. I showed up on the sidewalk. The lights were off. Nobody was inside. So I let myself in.

Soon, I was wandering the dark aisles. The place was filled with classic literature. Twain. Dickinson. Whitman. Grizzard. And a bunch of other authors whose names I frequently use at swanky dinner parties.

A gruff voice came from behind me. “Can I help you?”

I turned to see a man with a sour face, looking back at me.

“We’re closed,” he said.

“I’m here for the interview.”

“Well, let’s get this over with, I’m in a hurry.”

We went into his office. The man frowned at my application. He shook his head. He said, “It’s not gonna work out.”

The sour-faced man didn’t give me a reason. No explanations, not even an “I’m sorry.” He just told me to leave.

Before I left, I had to know why. Call it a personality quirk, but I like to know things.

“Was it something I did?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then what is it?”

“You’re just not our type.”

He said nothing after that because he didn’t have to. I knew what he meant. On my application, I’d written that I did not attend high school. This guy probably didn’t even think I could read.

“I’m a hard worker,” I told him.

“I’m sure you are.”

“And I’m always early.”

“Have a nice day.”

So I bought a carton of ice cream. Which made me feel better. So I ate more ice cream. Which made me feel WAY better. Then I got sick.

Over the years, I kept frequenting the bookstore because there is something about the smell of books that makes me high. In fact, I loved this place so much that the first date my wife and I ever had actually began here at this store—since they served coffee.

Before I ordered at the cafe counter, I asked my date if she wanted something to drink. She said she wanted water.

So I asked the cashier to fill a free Styrofoam cup with tap water.

When I handed the cup to my date, she said, “What happened?”

“Nothing,” I said.

“I asked for water.”

“I know.”

“Were they out of bottles or something?”

“No.”

“Is the cash register broken?”

“No.”

“Then why did you give me a Dixie Cup of lukewarm tap?”

“Water’s water.”

“Buy me a bottled water or I’m going to slash your tires.”

So we got married.

These are the things I think about inside this store. I’m thinking about the millions of hours I spent reading books in the store cafe. About the dinner dates that changed my life.

Little things become more important to me the older I get.

My favorite authors are all here. On every rack. These friends got me through the hard parts of life. They made up for my lack of education. They made me happy.

I scan the “D” section. Fiction. The Charles Dickens books are positioned in a row. “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Great Expectations,” and “David Copperfiield.”

Right beside “Oliver Twist” is a book by another author. Alphabetically speaking, this author’s name comes right after Dickens.

I pick up the book. I dust it off. My name is on the cover. My face is on the jacket. I have to close my eyes to keep from crying.

I half expect a gruff voice behind me to say, “Can I help you, sir?” And I half expect to see a man with a sour face.

Maybe I would answer with: “I know I wasn’t your type, sir. But you were wrong about me. I‘m not trash.”

Then, maybe he would ask me to forgive him. Perhaps I would give him a handshake, or a hug. Maybe buy him an ice cream cone or something. Maybe we could even be friends.

But life doesn’t work that way.

So I wrote this instead.

37 comments

  1. GaryD - September 3, 2019 9:55 am

    Well, you’re my type of author I love to read. Hope that counts for something. Have a great day, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Jim Porter - September 3, 2019 10:23 am

    I should have seen that end coming! Btw, the time stamp on your story says 6:43, but I’m reading it at 6:22! Does that mean I went back in time?🤔

    Reply
    • Pat - September 3, 2019 3:18 pm

      I’m not real sure, but I think the time of the post is Greenwich Mean Time.

      Reply
  3. Mara Russell - September 3, 2019 11:13 am

    You made me laugh, then cry. Very few people can do that in such a short story. You are God’s gift to the world, Sean. Don’t ever forget that.

    Reply
  4. Colleen Shabluk - September 3, 2019 11:50 am

    Another wonderful memory from your life that all of your readers can relate to at some time in their past, or present. Your experiences show us all how we are more alike than different. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  5. Ginger - September 3, 2019 11:59 am

    I’m with you. I love book stores, the one in Fairhope and the one in Homewood are my two favorites. The latter with first edition autographed is pretty neat. They are both small town, comfortable, with nice people and happy faces Do not EVER focus on what other people think of you. My Mom always asked, “Who are “THEY?” Please God and your sweet wife and let They worry about why they do what THEY do.

    Reply
  6. Camille - September 3, 2019 12:08 pm

    What do you think of him now, Mr. important bookstore man?

    Reply
  7. Denise D Siders - September 3, 2019 12:16 pm

    This was a good one! I feel at home among books too. A library is like a visit with old friends. Blessings to you and yours, Sean! The world is a better place because you are in it.

    Reply
  8. Karen - September 3, 2019 12:21 pm

    This story is a special gem. Your wife is a pistol! Thank you for your daily gifts.

    Reply
  9. Rhonda - September 3, 2019 12:50 pm

    No you are not trash. But I know those wrong first impression episodes leave marks that won’t come off. As for your lack of education… I would argue that you have always been wise beyond your years, It was forced on you like so many other children who are adversely effected by the people God gives them. A, B, C and 1, 2, 3 are a very small slice of the learning pie. Life educates everyone no matter what their learning is. And I am with you the book thing. I have old books that I haven’t read and probably never will. Its not about the print inside but the memories they carry. The pages smell like a hot summer day in 1944 in south Georgia. I can shove my nose deep in the binding and Bambi is in the room with me again. I love books with hand written notes. Its like saying “How was your day?” And they answer you back. Love the feel of thick soft pages and fabric covers.
    You need a fabric cover on the next book. With a blood hound embossed in gilded gold on the spine. The pages should be filled with stories of Ellie and Thelma and their unique perspective on human activity. You can dedicate it to an old dog with too few tricks!

    Reply
    • Maxine - September 3, 2019 2:05 pm

      Beautiful thoughts well written to a deserving author of life observations on this planet.

      Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - September 3, 2019 7:55 pm

      Love Rhonda’s idea of a new book!! Just say’n!!

      Reply
  10. Joe Patterson - September 3, 2019 12:51 pm

    Beautiful thanks again

    Reply
  11. Linda Eason - September 3, 2019 1:34 pm

    Love to read your stories….if you are ever in Jacksonville, pay a visit to Chamblin’s Bookmine, a used bookstore that you literally can get lost in! It is a treasure….stacks and stacks of books around every corner!

    Reply
  12. Steve - September 3, 2019 1:35 pm

    Failure, or even fear of it, can be a great motivator. I sense this was a theme for you through out your life. I know it was for me. I wish it was something else. I’m sure you do as well. Maybe just a drive to be successful; instead of the fear of failure. It is not a desirable human attribute. I can attest to that.

    Reply
  13. Emjay - September 3, 2019 1:46 pm

    Bet that sour-faced man didn’t last long in his job. And Jamie threatening to slash your tires? You two are God’s gift to each other and now to your loving readers.

    Reply
  14. Ron Richardson - September 3, 2019 2:00 pm

    I love the little stories inside the big one…the honeymoon, the failed job interview, the first date, and the return to the store. It takes quite a talent to weave all that together. Nicely done, Sean.

    Reply
  15. Rhea Wynn - September 3, 2019 2:06 pm

    I know you are proud, and, though I don’t know you personally, you make me proud. I use your story to inspire my students in their writing. Thank you for providing inspiration.

    Reply
    • Jan - September 3, 2019 2:34 pm

      Excellent but it would have been better if that “nice” man had been there to see you holding your book! What would have been the best is if I had been standing there to witness that encounter!

      Reply
  16. Johnny - September 3, 2019 2:46 pm

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Sean. Wisdom is not acquired with college. Wisdom is acquired through character. The Disciples were not learned men. They were common, ordinary working people. Though flawed, they possessed certain character traits that enabled them to choose rightly on the things that mattered. They possessed humility and a teachable Spirit. Though they had no formal education, they were wise enough to choose truth over falsehood. They realized that what you are in this life is not as important as who you serve. They came to understand that it’s not about “me.” It’s about Him. He liked books too. Just like you. He wrote 66 of them. Choose wisely.

    Reply
  17. Shelton A. - September 3, 2019 3:02 pm

    Great story…never go cheap on your future wife (not that cheap anyway). I love bookstores, too. I can get lost and lose all track of time very easily. Always more that I want than I can afford for that trip.

    Reply
  18. Pat - September 3, 2019 3:25 pm

    Again a reminder that our disappointments are often God’s appointments! I have remembered this since I heard it in a sermon when I was 12 years of age (a very long time ago).

    Reply
  19. Edna B. - September 3, 2019 3:40 pm

    I love bookstores too. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I really enjoyed today’s story. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna b.

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - September 3, 2019 4:11 pm

    Charleston and Bookstores are both Heaven for me. You recently stated in a post that life happens TO you. I am very happy that life worked out this way for you, and that you wrote this instead, Writer right after Dickens!!

    Reply
  21. Judy Wilson - September 3, 2019 6:10 pm

    I have loved books since I was a child visiting the local library. Several years ago I loved watching the show about bidding on storage lockers. Well, I received a call from the storage business where my son rented a locker. The man told me about a sale they were going to have on delinquent lockers. I asked him if any of them contained books. He said he wasn’t allowed to give out that info but he did remember seeing one with books. Well, that’s all I needed to hear. I didn’t tell my husband that I was going to bid on a storage unit, perhaps! Well, yes, well, I had to wait until about 10 units had be sold before they got around to the one I was interested in and it turned out to be a small unit. When they opened the door, there was a table with some books, a small book case with old encyclopedias and other nondescript looking items. The rain had gotten into the unit at some point and there was some mildew on some of the books.
    I had a struggle with myself for a minute and then after someone else bid $10 I was hooked and bid $20.
    That person and I swapped turns of bidding until I bid $100 (I promised myself I would not go over that amount). I became the proud and uncertain owner of a storage unit full of books. One problem I didn’t count on was that the unit had to be cleared out that day!
    I left and went home to tell my husband I needed his help to haul off all these books. Thankfully my son was also at the house and he came to help also.
    I don’t regret going into strange territory of bidding on anything, much less a storage unit.
    I recouped the $100 within a week and made way more selling these very old Bibles which were in the unit
    Apparently the owner had been a collector of religious books and artifacts. Don’t be afraid to do something different and new sometime. I was 69 years old and had never been to an auction much less bid on anything.

    Reply
  22. Rebecca Souders - September 3, 2019 6:22 pm

    Book snobs are the worst… well, maybe behind literary snobs. Love your writing, Sean!

    Reply
  23. Janet Mary Lee - September 3, 2019 8:00 pm

    It is all perspective isn’t it! You were there Sean at that bookstore. And he wasn’t. Enough said! (smile).

    Reply
  24. Nancy Swider - September 3, 2019 8:16 pm

    Bookstores and libraries are my personal crack…just ask anyone that travels with me. There are many reasons I love reading your column…but today you gave me one more reason to love it even more. Thanks for giving bookstores a thumbs up…maybe I’ll see you in the No Name Bookstore in Port St. Joe….they have great coffee too.

    Reply
  25. MermaidGrammy - September 3, 2019 8:26 pm

    The truth is…he wasn’t YOUR type. Bet he’s sorry now.

    Reply
  26. cronkitesue - September 3, 2019 8:51 pm

    Anybody loves a bookstore is my type./ Keep writing Sean.

    Reply
  27. Carol Stern - September 3, 2019 10:59 pm

    Been there. Felt that. Keep the faith and keep blessing us with your words❤️

    Reply
  28. Ol' Retired Geezer - September 4, 2019 1:22 am

    Well, Sean, it looks like I’m in good company. I was turned down for a job at a music store in Falls Church, Virginia. I just didn’t look “cool” enough to work there. I really enjoyed your show in Columbiana! Also enjoyed meeting you and your “Boss” Jamie.

    Reply
  29. Connie Havard Ryland - September 4, 2019 1:33 am

    I love bookstores and libraries. If I would have been able to go to college I would have been a librarian. Of course, my job would be obsolete now. There’s just something about being in a building full of books that makes me happy. You belong there too. You touch so many people with your words. I hope you feel the love and the joy you give out coming back to you a hundred fold.

    Reply
  30. Suzanne Cahill - September 4, 2019 11:04 am

    As I read this, I felt the sting of that man’s words to your spirit all these years later. It’s a good reminder to choose our words carefully before we speak, a concept that seems to have evaporated in today’s social and political climate. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  31. Debbie Taylor - September 4, 2019 12:01 pm

    This story moved me to tears. Books and libraries and bookstores saved my life, gave me hope, gave me a future. They still do, every day.

    Reply
  32. Kaye Cutchen - September 11, 2019 11:14 pm

    I hope he lived long enough to regret his treatment of you!

    Reply
  33. Miranda - September 14, 2019 3:59 pm

    My husband and I did, in fact, stay at the Super 8 in Dothan the night we got married. I sent him a screenshot of that portion and he replied “Haha! Been there.” We’re from DeFuniak and have lived in Thomasville, GA for 15 years. I was so sad I missed your visit here. I had no idea you lived in Walton County. My aunt even told me she booked you years ago to speak at the DeFuniak Rotary meeting. I’m binge reading your blog now 🙂

    Reply

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