I heard him asking Roy, (not his real name) the store manager, for help in an off-handed way. I wasn’t eavesdropping, mind you. But you know when you’re standing off to the side, or a few steps away from someone or a small group so that you can’t help but overhear bits and pieces of their conversation? That’s what it was like in this instance. He was asking about children’s books….”something for 2-year old twins,” he said – and what Roy thought would be right for them. “Books with pictures and stuff,” is how he put it.
After a smattering of other voices and words, I moved away from near the counter on to some “new arrivals” book shelves looking for some titles by Archer Mayor and Ian Rankin. My list was (still is) long on stuff I hadn’t read by them. I soon wandered to a section devoted entirely to Mystery, Suspense, Thriller titles. I’m in hog heaven browsing when the words, “S’cuse me, Sir. Could I ask you a question?” intrudes. I turned to see this guy in a baseball cap covering dirty blond hair. He’s thin, wiry – about 150-55 pounds; close to my height (I’m 6 one and a bit) with several days growth spattered on his face, milky blue eyes – and he’s wearing a checkered plaid shirt and faded jeans. He’s holding a book in his hands. I took notice of him, his measure so to speak, because I didn’t know what to expect. And I gotta say, I wanted to be annoyed at his intrusion. But his body language and facial expression spoke pleadingly of genuinely needing an answer to whatever question he wanted to ask me.
That’s when he mentioned his 2-year old twin granddaughters. I instantly registered that this was the guy I absent-mindedly overheard asking Roy for help about books for them. I’m hooked. Can’t be snarky now. I mumble, “sure” – or something to that effect. And that’s when he “dropped the bomb on me!” That’s a lline from a Gap Band song…google them and you will understand.
He tells me, “my son-in-law looks like you. And I am trying to get my granddaughters some books. You know, ones that they can relate to or that maybe shows kids like them in the pictures.” He stammers and hedges his words about “not doing any harm and such and trying to make a good impression.” I was not sure if he meant with his daughter, son-in-law or the twins. I was waiting for him to whip out the old wallet and wave a picture of a couple adorable mocha-latte toned toddlers in cornrows. But it didn’t happen.
Instead, he was visibly upset because he couldn’t find any books like that in the store. And he wondered if I knew where he mgiht find some. That when I knew this was a first for him. And his whole demeanor clearly showed he meant no offense in approaching me. Although, for me, it was obvious that since I looked like his son-in-law, surely I would understand his dilemma and come to his rescue. And just like in one of Hollywood’s fabled “buddy” movies – I assured him I understood his situation.
I told him two of MY daughter-in-laws looked like him.
Watching the look on his face and the tension leave his thin frame was breathtaking. Then, in the spirit of “Band of Brothers,” I gave him directions to the big box book store a few miles away telling him when he got there that he shouldn’t be shy or nervous about asking for the books he wanted and needed for his 2-year old twin granddaughters.
We shook hands and he offered a sincere, “thanks.”
I chuckled, and allowed myself a warm fuzzy feeling about my good deed. But I was worried about “Mr. Twins,” as I instantly nicknamed him. His whole daughter, son-in-law, granddaughters “thing” was giving him pause. He was wrestling with it, chewing on it. It was pinching and kneading and digging at him around the edges and deep in his heart and mind. He just HAD to get this thing right! You could feel it, touch his anquish. Perhaps, a bit of desperation.
I knew how he felt. Been there. Done that. Twice.
It wasn’t until the next day when I thought, “…of all the bookstores in town, Mr. Twins found his way into my favorite haunt” (OK, you can stop rolling your eyes). But think about it: what are the chances of two strangers who meet having kids who married kids who looked like the other guy; meeting in a way that would provide solace (definitely “understanding” if you will) for each other’s personal angst. Odds are, the bookies in Vegas, or Lloyd’s of London would take your business.
This happened during the Summer of Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland.
For Mr. Twins and I, it was about Books. Race. Family – and the ties that bind.