♫ It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere I go. ♫
Or Chanukah. Or Winter Solstice. Or Kwanzaa. Pick your holiday. I personally celebrate Winter Solstice, or Yule, but my traditions are probably very similar to those who celebrate the others I’ve listed.
Scott and I have a Solstice tree with little blue and white lights on an end table in our living room; we will plant it in the back yard on New Year’s Day. Presents are wrapped and tucked on the shelf under the tree. No bows on the packages yet; the tree is temptation enough for the three cats! No need to put ribbons out there, too.
I wrote a blog a few days ago titled Holiday Magic. I mentioned how people are a little nicer this time of year. This applies to me, too; the homeless man outside the CVS drug store the other day not only got an extra dollar, he got a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup as I passed him by.
What I really wanted to give him, though, was a book. One of my books, perhaps The Cabin; or some other author’s book; it really wouldn’t have mattered. Something for him to read on the chilly Southern California evenings we’ve been having.
But I wonder: would a homeless man, whose speech shows him to be a polite but probably not very educated person, appreciate a book? Would he throw it in the trash in disgust, wondering why I hadn’t given him the money the book cost instead of pages of no use or interest to him? Would he burn it for warmth?
Then I feel ashamed of myself. Just because a man is homeless doesn’t mean he cannot or does not like to read. Or does it? I am reminded of something that happened to me five or six years ago, before I moved to California. I wanted to donate some books to the men’s homeless shelter in the town where I lived in Illinois. I was bluntly told no thanks. “These guys don’t read,” the shelter manager said.
I wanted to ask him how he knew that, since there was neither a book nor magazine anywhere to be seen in the place. Still, I thanked him and moved on. The books ended up being donated to the library for their book sale.
Donating the books reminded me of a frustrating, bitter incident I’d had with that very library years before, when I first moved to that community. Our home was on the nicer end of a very poor neighborhood just outside city limits. Because of our location, outside the city borders, we could not get a library card unless we paid well over a hundred dollars a year for it. “Do you know how many books I can buy for a hundred dollars a year?” I asked the library clerk, incredulously, when told my address was outside the library district. He just gave me a sheepish look and apologized.
I fought. Not for me, but for the school-aged kids in my neighborhood, for the right to have a library card. I wrote letters, and was eventually able to schedule a meeting with the library’s director. I stated my case, but was told flatly, “Give it up. The people in that neighborhood don’t read books, anyway.”
Which people? My parents lived a block away from me; my mother was a retired nurse and school teacher. My father was the pastor of a local church. The people across the street were both veterinarians; we had at least two other school teachers on our block. Yet because our neighborhood was considered lower middle class, the library director assumed none of us could our would want to read a library book.
Seeing that man outside the CVS the other day, the one who was so thankful for an extra dollar and a peanut butter cup, brought up these old memories and made me wonder: when did enjoying a book become a privilege? When did it become elitist to enjoy good storytelling? Why wouldn’t a homeless man or woman want a book to call their own?
This holiday season, I would like to ask each of you, so many of whom have written your own books, to donate a book to a homeless shelter, or shelter for abused women, somewhere in your community. Perhaps also donate a children’s book or two, if it is a shelter that houses families. Or donate books to your local Toys for Tots drive. Just because a person is down on their luck and facing hard times doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy escaping to a better place through the pages of a book. In fact, who deserves this “privilege” more?
Happy holidays—be it Christmas, Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or, as in our household, some combination thereof—to you all.
To Continue with the Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells Blog Hop, please visit Patricia Damery next (just click her name, below). Miss a stop on the Hop? Here’s the complete list of participants–click their names to jump to their blogs.