Book friends

I thought I saw a for sale sign as I drove down the street on my way to the grocery. The sign was small; surely it wasn't before Mrs. Morton's house? When I returned, the street was filled with cars and, yes, I saw people walking around to her back door. My mind is channeled toward getting rid of possessions, so I never attend sales, but when I noticed a man emerging with an armful of books I locked the groceries in the car and hurried over. The books took my breath away: a once-in-a-lifetime happening. Mrs. Morton and I like the same kind of books. There were rows of books on nature by Teale, and Borland, and Peattie. There were many of Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow books, plus English books I'd never seen - oh, one on English hedges! I asked the price and was told: ``The big ones are a dollar and the others are 25 cents.'' Certainly a nonreader had so decided. Imagine pricing by size!

These books were in mint condition; the jackets were perfect. At home, I hurried to sort them into piles by author and subject and then, sitting amid Mrs. Morton's treasures, there came an uncomfortable moment of quiet. My feeling of elation turned to sadness. I could scarcely bear to touch the books, for I knew how much she must have loved them. I knew how grieved I would be to lose mine. And her loss was compounded by the loss of her little house; surely she would have preferred to stay rather than live in a strange room, miles away, in another state.

There were four books on walking. Of course she would be interested in such a subject. Often I'd seen her at the grocery with the folding cart she wheeled there and asked her to wait until I'd checked out so that she could ride home with me.

Mrs. Morton was a quiet lady, and our brief conversations centered on the weather or the latest neighborhood happening. We never talked about books. Now I wish I had mentioned just one I was reading. All these years we'd lived near each other and could have enjoyed exchanging this mutual interest in country living.

``I must write her,'' I thought. ``I must tell her I have most of her collection and that we loved the same books.'' Then a cold thought came slithering in. Would I, in the same situation, like hearing that?

Looking again at the books on walking, I remembered two I had that she might like. I could send them. Especially she'd like the one by the professor at Middlebury College who walked in search of flowers. They might ease the settling into her new room.

And she has none about raccoons, and wouldn't she love the colored photographs in the large Borland book? And the Perrin books, ``First, Second and Third Person Rural.'' They aren't out of print and can be replaced? I took a box over to my shelves and began filling it. Won't she be surprised?

It's taken longer than I expected, but the address has been obtained, the note written, and the box is ready for mailing. I tried to say the right things. I didn't, of course, do as well as Mr. Shakespeare, who put it so succinctly: ``Come, and take a choice of all my library;/ And so beguile thy sorrow.''

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