A little story for you, for this happy Thanksgiving.
A few weeks ago, I was forced to send the following email:
I think I might have left my bookmark in The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, when I returned it to Barkley on Friday. A bookmark is a bookmark, but I’ve had this one for about 23 years! Any chance it could be tracked down or folks could keep an eye out for it? It is made of three Antigua stamps featuring Mickey Mouse, Granny Duck, and Huey, Duey, and Louie. I would love to get it back! Also, hello Bethany if you are reading this.
Sure. A bookmark. Big deal.
But it was.
I remember buying that bookmark. I have a frustratingly poor memory when it comes my childhood, but I remember this moment clearly. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade. We were in my childhood independent bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books. I don’t remember what books we bought that day, but I do remember the small basket of homemade bookmarks on the checkout counter. I flipped through them as my mom was paying for books. I discovered the triple-stamp, Disney-themed Antigua postage. Whoever made it had the clever idea to take the stamps and laminate them. Simple, but such a nice idea for a bookmark. I’ve since used that idea to make several bookmarks of my own out of expired membership cards, European paper money, and more.
Anyway. I instantly wanted this bookmark. I begged my mom for it. I don’t know how much it cost, but I came home with it.
The bookmark’s journey for the next many years is fuzzy. It seems likely that I used it for many books, but I do not specifically remember placing it between any middle grade pages during those middle grade years.
So, fast-forward. It may have been college. It may have been shortly after. In any case, I rediscovered this bookmark, probably in a box at my parents’ house. I instantly recognized it, snatched it up, and I came home with it.
For the first nine years of my teaching career, I read some. Not a lot. But I had my Guys Read Club, and I would go through little phases of reading a lot. Back then, I read grown-up books, sometimes. I remember using a variety of bookmarks, including Antigua-Disney.
Then, three years ago, I discovered Twitter, then walked into the clubhouse when #nerdybookclub started, and started reading like a crazy person. I abandoned the pretension and word count of grown-up books and dug deeply into my true love, children’s literature.
With me through every book was that bookmark. Think about it. That’s hundreds of books. Thousands of pages. Millions of words. Not to mention the emotions and thoughts and worries and cares of me, the reader.
So it was a big deal. I got choked up thinking about losing this bookmark. Over three stamps and a plastic coating! Real tears! Real heartache! It had been with me for more than twenty years. It faithfully held my place in hundreds of books. Many of us have books that have touched us, that stay with us, that we hold in our hearts. We feel like those books are a part of us–and they are. They helped shape us. Does a small, flat, rectangular object have powers of its own?
The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the relationship between a reader and his twenty year-old bookmark is something more intimate, deeper than it might seem. That bookmark sat between the pages–pages that I turned with my own fingers, held with my own hands–of nearly every book I’ve read in the last five years, and probably a few hundred in the more than fifteen years before that. There is little so stable and steadfast in one’s life.
I got this email:
Haven’t seen your bookmark here at Barkley, but will let you know if it turns up. It’s a drag to lose something you’ve cherished a long time!
So, I was sad. How many things do you have and have used constantly, continuously, for more than twenty years? How many people do you interact with, every day, for more than twenty years straight?
I was sad. Because I figured my bookmark was gone. I figured whatever kid–I hoped it would be a kid–decided to give Kathi Applet’s newest a try would find it, claim it, and keep it. I hoped she would use it well. Maybe it would be his reading companion for the next twenty years. Maybe it would leave a mark on her reading life–her whole life!–like it did on mine.
And then I received one more email:
That bookmark has been located! You may pick it up at the adult circulation desk at the Central Library. It is in our lost and found filebox under your name. I’ll pass your greeting on to Bethany!
And so I went to the Central Branch, to recover what was lost. To pick up my old friend, who knows me more than many, knows what I like and what I despise, who I admire and who I envy, my secret crushes and hated nemeses, who has heard me laugh and seen me cry, and who always, always, waited so patiently for me to return, who saved my spot for me, in my reading life. In my life.
And I came home with it.