I met Martha Stewart there, though not in person of course. Her rosy cheeks shone at me from the display table by the east-facing door. I don’t remember what year it was, only that it was the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that I was with my mother, and that I was in my early 20s.
I picked up a copy of Entertaining and started leafing through its pages while my mother said, off to the side, under her breath, “I can’t imagine why anyone would pay $25 for a book of Junior League recipes plagiarized by a woman who couldn’t even get into the Junior League.”
My mother was a nicer person than this makes her sound. But she was never very nice about Martha Stewart. There were too many real cooks and real writers in the world for Betty, my mother, the writer and cook, to waste time with a woman she considered no more than a pretty circus act.
I didn’t buy Entertaining that night, mostly for fear of disappointing my mother. I’m not certain what I bought instead, but I know I didn’t leave empty-handed because I never left empty-handed, not once. I’m not sure I’ve ever walked out of any bookstore empty-handed, not then or now, which is why I now have piles and stacks and shelves and boxes of books in every room of my house, despite having given hundreds to the library or sold them at yard sales or handed them off to friends. I love books. I have always loved them.
When I was little we would spend hours at The Book Shelf, my mother and I, and then later, when I was older, my mother and sister and I. It was there that Charlotte helped me locate the copy of The Wind in the Willows that’s still on my home bookshelf, today, next to the white leather King James Bible that still has Silly Putty stuck in the book of Matthew, because I wanted to see if Silly Putty would work in a Bible.
I bought 1984 and Animal Farm for school, Flowers in the Attic for entertainment. I was never without a book, even when my mother finally allowed me a television in my bedroom.
When Davis-Kidd Booksellers opened in Memphis in 1985 I was in college, certain I would never return to Memphis for more than short holiday visits because in Memphis there were too many places to buy waders for duck hunting and not nearly enough places to buy French Vogue. Davis-Kidd was an oasis in an otherwise provincial landscape. It was a comfortable place for me to wander around when coming home had little else to offer.
The shelves of Davis-Kidd provided me copies of Paint Magic and Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Knits, Christmas presents I bought for myself one year. Another year I worked through a whole line of John Gierach books. I tried waiting until the Patricia Cornwall volumes hit the sale tables, but patience has never been my virtue. It was there, in the bookstore, that I bought my first Filofax, which I later gave to my mother, and then, later after that, retrieved again after she died. Its six small rings still hold my wine notes, which she kept, and her story ideas, which I kept. I met David Sedaris there one night by accident after stumbling into a reading and book signing, before I really knew who David Sedaris was.
The bookstore was my place, my grown up place. My growing up place.
When I ventured into the parenting section for the first time I was looking for a present for a friend, the first of my friends to become a mother. I found a book titled Expectations, and I bought it and had it wrapped with the Davis-Kidd sticker and pretty ribbon on the outside of the package. Five or six years later my friend would return this same book to me when the bookstore’s parenting shelves suddenly became my most frequently visited section. I bought copies of Pat the Bunny and The Velveteen Rabbit before my due date was even nailed down.
And then I had this real, living, breathing, crying, burping, strange, tiny person to contend with.
I remember going to the toy section and buying the crinkly stuffed caterpillar to go with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I bought colorful fabric flags that hung from the rail of the baby car carrier. I bought Baby Einstein books and CDs, stuffed lambs and foam blocks for the bathtub. I bought crap and more crap, just so I could spend time in the bookstore, hoping to acquire knowledge and wisdom by osmosis since I had no idea what the hell I was doing and no time, or energy, to read.
The day after my daughter was born, two years later, my mother appeared in my hospital room with my toddler son who wanted to meet his baby sister. He was excited to show her Thomas the Train, which BeBe bought for him at the bookstore because he was a big brother now.
How did I not know, my mother asked, that my son’s favorite place was the bookstore? He loved it, she informed me, not so much because of the books but because of the train table and all the trains that he could hook together and push around and around the track. Choo choo choo. She had been taking him to story time in the mornings for months, staying afterward to watch him discover how the magnets and wheels worked, listening to his stories and sound effects. He would play with the trains, eat a peanut butter sandwich in the bistro, (where there were always books on the table), and then go home for a nap.
When the trains began to lose their luster, not long after my mother died, the puppets and sticker books took their place. And then the Playmobil sets and DK Eyewitness books. Dragonology. Harry Potter. Captain Underpants.
Around the time my son fell out of love with books, and the bookstore, his little sister picked up the mantle. She raced through Junie B. Jones, the Goddess Girls, and Dork Diaries. Looking for Alaska was the first book of hers she lent me to read, saying, as she handed it over, “I think you would like this one.” She and I then read all of John Green’s books together, though separately, along with Station Eleven and We Were Liars.
She is never without a book, my daughter.
Upon hearing, in January, that our beloved Booksellers (formerly, though always still known as, Davis-Kidd) would be closing, my bookworm girl announced that we should go immediately and buy as many books as we could, while we still could. And so we have been there, every weekend from the first day the news broke until Sunday, not knowing Monday would bring the final end.
There are rumors of a rebirth, of a smaller, leaner independent bookstore to replace its impractically large predecessor. And there are, of course, other places to buy the Harry Potter series and Pat the Bunny and even French Vogue. But the excited squeal of delight accompanying the train, chug-chug-chugging over the track, is a sound now left behind, along with so many happy discoveries, reminders that a bookstore is so much more than simply a place to buy books.