BY LIVIA MENEGHIN
A few years ago, I heard about a Brooklyn thrift store opportunity that I couldn't pass up: $25 for a large shopping bag of goodies. "If you can fit it, you can buy it!" said handwritten signs alongside the walls of the dilapidated building. When I saw their piles of books, I knew the clothing sections of the store would have to wait. My hands quickly skimmed across countless novels until finally halting on a book by Thomas A. Harris, called I'm OK—You're OK. I was taking a psychology class at the time, and interested in how mental health affected relationships, so I happily placed it in my bag. On the train home, I opened up the cover and found a note.
On New Year's Eve in 1973, a mother gave this book to her daughter (Sue). But why did Sue’s mother have the book? We know she read it, but what made her give it to Sue? Did she now hope it could provide answers for her daughter in the New Year?
I thought back to the times I’ve been gifted books. Just this past summer, a close friend gave me her childhood copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for my birthday. It was incredibly worn, probably providing her with years of adventure and happiness. Holding that book in my hands, with its broken spine and her favorite lines highlighted, made me feel like we were reading together. A book as a gift is so much more than something to read. Chosen with care and thoughtfulness, a book is an outstretched hand, welcoming another into a new world of new ideas.
On the train ride home, I flipped through the tattered pages when I came across a lump. Sitting between pages 138 and 139 was an unsealed letter from Mrs. Mary Lehman from Monmouth, Illinois to Mrs. Ruth Robertson from Marion, Kansas, dated three years after the inscription (September 16, 1976). I wondered now about the four women. Did they all know each other? Did Sue gift it after reading? Mrs. Lehman's handwriting reminded me of my grandmother's—very elegant and careful. I could hear a humorous attitude with the first line, "Guess its about time I answered your letter." I felt like I knew them—had been given access into their personalities, their voices. This letter was not much different from the ones I write with my friends. We share daily news, things that seem unimportant, but it can mean wonders to someone far away when we ask if they are OK.
This leaves me wondering: what if I put a letter of my own into the book and donated it to a used bookstore, to keep the chain going? Whether intentionally placed or not, I picked up extra inspiration that day in Brooklyn, a mystery of sorts. I walked away with more than just a book, but possibilities for more stories. There's something incredibly human about imagining these women, especially through the same book they all shared. It makes the world feel smaller, more meaningful, even without actually knowing them or being in the same physical space. By continuing the chain, I can add to the story.
The letter is transcribed below.
Sept 16, '76
Guess its about time I answer your letter, now that the Fall Festival is over with, it lasted 4 days. The senior citizens all went out there for breakfast one morning, we ate at the Lutheran tent, then went out that evening with Gene and Janice as Dan was working at one tent, the little boys were in the chicken scramble, Cory who is six, he caught a chicken and got a silver Dollar, but Tye was too slow, he didn’t get any, then the kids were in the Pet Parade on Sat. morning. Cory got first prize in his class, with a unusual [ ] got 2 silver dollars for that, so he thought he did real well, I won a 20 lb bag of detergent at one of the stands, so I will be clean for a while, been having nice weather, had a rain last wed night, has been cool ever since, had the furnace on a couple times, so makes one think that winter is just around the corner, we had a nice visit with Mary + Marvin, they were here for 3 days, seemed happy, hope everything turns out all right for them, they were on their way home. Ralph were here one evening, they had a letter from Lillian, they wanted me to read, sure too bad about Dick, hope he will soon be better.
Jacks are getting ready to pick seed corn, they hope to start next week, some of the fellows have all ready started. Just talked to Phyllis she was making pepper relish, she always makes a lot and gives most of it away, as her men don’t like it, she brought me some nice tomatoes yesterday and dozen eggs, her pullets are laying already.
I cleaned my garage yesterday, so today I am not doing much, made some bread pudding this morning, going to have goulash for dinner, have some hamburgers to use. Our Book Club went out for breakfast at the Restaurant yesterday morning.
Hope you are feeling OK. Are you taking the Divine flu shot that the gov is giving. I will if they ever get the serum in here or else I will take my regular shot that I have always taken.
Gene just called, said to tell you “Hello”
Livia Meneghin is a poet, non-fiction writer, and recent graduate from Franklin & Marshall College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. She was a contributing writer and photographer for F&M’s College Reporter, and earned the William Uhler Hensel Senior Prize in Research Writing for her essay, “Priest, Clerk, and Pitiable King: The Portrayal of Richard II in Recent Production History.” Her work is published in literary journals Dispatch and Plume. After a month-long poetry workshop in Greece, she is working on her first full-length collection and applying to MFA programs. You can follow her writing here: liviameneghin.wordpress.com.