I keep gifts even when there’s little room to store them or a reason to use these gifts. They stay with me because there’s often an unexpected continuum linked with them. Current examples include a plastic tiny animal zoo anonymously mailed to me, to a large polychrome earthenware bowl crafted by a New Mexican Santo Domingo Pueblo potter and given to me 26 years ago.
The story behind the plastic animal zoo began during my cancer treatments in Arizona. One day, encased inside a purple envelope, a tiny plastic animal arrived with a sticky note reading, “Hello!” There was no signature or even a return address. The tiny critters with notes continue to arrive. The collection’s history includes a background of being released by a cancer survivor who received the collection from another person who battled cancer. Whimsy sent my way for strength and healing.
Presently I am shedding mounds of heirlooms and other goodies that are both treasured but add to my mental and physical clutter. If I knew how to answer the tiny animal that arrived in my mailbox after my recent garage sale with the question “I hope my friends weren’t sold,” I would answer, “No, they are safe, as are you.”
I’ll keep them free from waste bins and protected from separation. Which brings me to the priceless Santo Domingo polychrome bowl given to me as a gift. If I’ve told the story before, I won’t apologize for another retelling because it represents serendipitous continuum.
1993 — Santa Fe, New Mexico
Stress stripped my good senses like a tornado ripping across a field of corn. I felt the sting from the arrival of the corporate owned big box, deep discount book and music store recently established less than a half block from my Enchanting Land Books.
For more than an hour, a would-be customer picked the brain of my best employee (a woman with a graduate degree in English, and a respected author of history for children) about the perfect books to bring to her young nephew. She placed 10 books on the sales counter and asked if we could hold them for her while she did some other shopping. She returned with her left side burdened down by a large plastic bag from the nearby discount bookstore. She picked through the stack we held for her, and purchased one of the books. As I ran her credit card, she, in pure and loud snark, complained, “You people are way overcharging for your books. Shame on you! I just bought the same books you showed me down the hall for 50% less.” Then she asked if we would wrap the nine books she bought at the discount store along with the one book that she bought from me.
“I’ll be happy to wrap your purchase from us.”
This sent her into a rage. After a 10 minute verbal abuse spew, she huffed her way from my store parting with, “I’ll never shop here again!”
About 90% of the books I purchased were pre-priced by the publisher. My wholesale price ranged from about 30% to 40% off the cover price, most times not including freight. Yep. Bookselling was not a highly profitable business when you factor in all the other costs of doing business. Big box discounters had the power to purchase at 50% off the cover price, and often negotiated free freight. When the discount store opened nearby, they promoted loss-leaders to bring customers to their door. Book knowledgable employees were not available to recommend a perfect book for a 9-year-old nephew. So when this would-be customer picked the brain of my employee, then purchased nine of her suggestions at a different store and then wanted us to gift wrap all those books Oh Hell No! I had payroll to meet and no sugar daddy corporation behind me. And BTW, don’t take advantage of our honored customer service that the discounter doesn’t offer. Gift wrapping is a cost of both product and employee time.
Meanwhile, Spouse was back into the pool and spa biz. His retail operation was near Enchanting Land Books. I stormed into his back room and released a stream of tears and bad words. Did I make the right choice saying no? Was it time for me to close the shop and make life sane again? What’s wrong with people who take advantage of the independent bookseller? And so on. “I don’t want to see one more person today!” I exclaimed between my tears and ——
“Charmaine!” hollered my best employee at the door of Spouse’s biz.
“She’s here, right?” she asked Spouse. He nodded yes.
“Well, she needs to get back to the store right away,” she said. “Someone wants to see her.”
“Tell them to go to hell,” I grumbled from the back room.
“No, really, Charmaine, you need to come to your store now.”
“I’m not going back there,” I declared.
She softly spoke to Spouse, then left.
“You really do need to go back to the store,” Spouse gently suggested. “There’s something I think you’ll like.”
“You go,” I said.
“No, it has to be you.”
He had that look that meant no more discussion. So I wiped my face of smeared mascara, and did my best to bolster my spirit and return to being the happy bookseller.
At the blue formica check out counter stood one of my most beloved customers, a young girl and her father from Santo Domingo Pueblo. She was a mentally curious child who loved books. With her family, from parents to aunts and cousins, she frequented Enchanting Land. She even helped me one afternoon when we were way too busy during Santa Fe’s historical Indian Market. Her parents, both jewelers, participated in the annual event. I paid her in books of her choice. Now, this was the first time I saw her in several months.
She lit up like a light bulb and ran to me as I sauntered through the door. What a surprise to see her. “It’s so good to see you,” I said, as I looked down at her shiny black hair and dark eyes that smiled with aplomb. We hugged. Tightly. Sincerely.
“I have something for you,” she said.
She grabbed my hand and led me to the counter where her father stood with a wide grin as he placed a large box on my sales counter. “This is for you,” he said.
I peeked inside. As if the Rio Grande had burst a dam, tears rushed from my eyes at the exquisite beauty and specialness of this gift.
My young friend said, “I’ve been very sick and my aunt made this bowl for me to help me heal. She said that when I get better that I must give it to someone I love.”
May 2, 2019 — Cambria, CA
Continuum. Memories. Healing.
Admittedly, I’ve been lost as to where I’m going to go next and what is ahead and how do I deal with the many changes in my life. As I’ve written before, I’ll be in cancer treatment for the rest of my life, and most likely at the Phoenix Mayo Clinic. So it made sense to move there. Yet, a level uncertainty brewed inside of me
It’s logical to leave Cambria for my specialized medical care. However, my doubts haunted me with: Am I ready for the Phoenix summer? Is Arizona a good fit for my way of seeing life? There are beautiful well-priced homes there, but I’ll still have the expense of the Santa Fe home. The Santa Fe home! What if we went back there instead? No, I need to be near a hospital that can easily access my records.
I wrestled with this conundrum as I reached for the Santa Domingo bowl to securely pack it for our eventual move — somewhere, someplace. Destination unknown.
Our Santa Fe home has been listed for sale twice. This time for a year with no buyer at the door. Real estate professionals remain stumped as to why it hasn’t sold.
As I placed the bowl in a well-padded box, my daughter who remained in Santa Fe texted me the following news link.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported,
Doctors and patients at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center now have direct access to specialists at the Mayo Clinic, whose Minnesota campus was ranked as the No. 1 hospital in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Officials with Christus St. Vincent and the Mayo Clinic — a nonprofit medical research organization and health care provider — announced Tuesday that the Santa Fe hospital has joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network,
I almost fainted when I read the report concurrent to the end of our listing with a Santa Fe real estate company.
That night, my Mayo Clinic oncologist messaged me about more genetic tests and biopsies for further targeted treatment. Meanwhile he wants to start me on another round of chemo to keep those tumors in check. (And I had finally embraced my Buddhist monk look of a fuzzy head of 1/8” hair! Back to bald I go.)
All of this in the course of 24 hours.
May 3, 2019 — Cambria, CA
Today will likely unwrap more details — details that I dare not predict. But it is clear to both Spouse and I that powers stronger and more wise than us has spoken. We will return to our beautiful if not over-sized home perched on a hill above a Santa Fe arroyo. We will return to views of the four seasons in the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains. Our grandchildren will take on a more dominate role, and for that I can’t smile enough.
The tiny zoo that still anonymously expands will take up a New Mexican citizenship. The bowl — one of the most amazing gifts given to me at a time when I was befuddled and felt lost for answers, will return to its home state and represent serendipitous continuum.