Nothing Like It

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Wendy Hodge

By WENDY HODGE

Yesterday I went to the local public library. For a middle-aged lady, I get way too excited about these trips. But honestly, how can you not get happy when you walk into a building full of books — all kinds of books — just waiting for you to stack them up and take them home. For free!

Walking in the front door, with my nerdy “word crush” showing all over my flushed face, I begin to wander. Sometimes I have a specific book or author in mind when I go “shopping” at the library; sometimes I roam slowly from shelf to shelf, letting the book covers speak to me.

Some book jackets are brightly colored with the title practically screaming out at you: HOW TO HAVE IT ALL!! and MASSACRE AT THE MASQUERADE BALL and LIVING IN A VIRAL WORLD: HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY.  I bypass these showy, slightly pushy, volumes in favor of the paperbacks whose edges are worn with use and the large print novels with broken spines and coffee stains. It’s as if they’ve been waiting for me to show up, take them home and appreciate them for the beautiful ordinary loveliness that they are.

To Kill A Mockingbird beckons to me. I own multiple copies of this classic, but a couple of times a year I check out a faded paperback with the original cover picture on it. I read it and cherish every page and wonder who else’s eyes have absorbed the music of Harper Lee’s words. With each reading, I gain a layer of appreciation for Scout and Jem and Atticus and the truths they proclaim just by being themselves. Mockingbird is a touchstone for me, and I imagine it always will be.

On the same shelf sits The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry. If you’ve not read this one, do yourself a favor and indulge for a bit. The author has included old photographs she found in a box around which she wove this simple lyrical tale. Its simplicity touches me every time.

And then there’s Haven Kimmel’s masterpiece: A Girl Named Zippy. The cover is a baby photo of Zippy herself, and the story is of her growing-up years in a tiny little town. Each chapter is a work of wonder. Zippy will have you laughing out loud about her barnyard menagerie and the Christmas her father brought her home a pony and then pull you up short with a list of things her alcohol-addicted, gambling, dishonest father lost … a list that includes that very same pony.

With my arms weighed down with these old familiar friends, I made my way through the checkout and back into the beautiful spring morning. Just outside, on the wide green lawn, sat a group of preschool children. An older man had stopped and was watching with his hands shielding his eyes from the sun, a smile peeking out from behind his face mask. I stood next to him and listened as the children sang. “If Your Happy And You Know It” drifted on the breeze.

“Have you ever heard anything so sweet?” he asked me.

“No sir,” I answered.

“There’s nothing like it … kids singing. That’s the plain truth of it right there,” he said.

We stood for a minute or two, just breathing and listening, before turning and smiling at each other once more. I left the library parking lot with a car seat full of books and ears full of sweet music thinking how right he was.

Later in the afternoon, my best friend and I were doing our daily evening walk through the yard — watering the plants, planning our next lovely bed of flowers and admiring all the beauty that’s come from our hard work — when he bent down and said, “Look at this!” in that urgent whisper he has when he’s got something important to say.

Right at our feet, among a bed of day lilies we planted last year (and which we have watered and worried over and watched with great anticipation) was a tiny bloom. It was barely visible, but there it was! The first day lily of the year will be this vibrant Shakespeare’s Red that we brought home from Bell’s Day Lily Garden a year ago. I snapped picture after picture and sent them to my best friend’s mom. She has her own day lilies she has been waiting to watch open up again, and I knew she would be as excited as we were. And she was! We oohed and ahhed over it a while, took more pictures and made our way inside knowing that soon the front and back yard both will be filled with lilies the color of candy and fairy dust. Their petals will be frilly and delicate, huge and elaborate, vibrant and beautiful.

As we often do as the sun is going down, we sat on the patio with the lush potted plants, the comfortable outdoor sofa and the white lights and tiki torches glowing around us, and we watched The Office. It was the finale of the series — the one that always makes me cry. Pam Beasley Halpert’s drawing of the office building the entire cast has worked in for so many years is hanging on the wall. As she turns to leave the office for the final time, she looks at the picture and says to the camera “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” My best friend hands me a tissue and tell him how much I loved every minute of my Thursday doing ordinary things, running errands and being alive. “There’s nothing like it,” I told him. “And that’s the plain truth of it right there.”

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