Mike stepped into the used bookstore, smelled the age of old pages and smiled.
Here was a wealth of old stories, history waiting to be read, and a host of other joys. On a back shelf, he found what he was looking for, two tiers crammed with the forgotten. They'd served their use to those who once held them dear, but now gathered dust in the darkest corner of the store.
There were Italian, American, French and Greek. They contained secrets from around the world. There were collections of chicken, beef, pastries, bread, and desserts. They waited, hidden in a little explored part of the store, and hoped someone discovered their treasures.
Mike knew what to do. He picked one up, held the spine in his hand and let the book fall open. They always opened to the most used pages, the recipes loved by lost generations. The page in front of him was for a recipe called, "Beef-filled cornbread". The picture showed a delicious layer of meat and cheese, layered with cornbread and covered with a hot sauce. The pages were stained with splatters of tomato sauce. It was obviously a favorite of the previous owners. He'd try this one.
Those used the most are the best.
He found several other books, each with its own marked pages, carried them to the counter and made his purchase.
"I hope you found something you like." The cashier said.
"Oh yes. Very much! I'm sure these are exactly to my taste."
He paid for his purchase, left the store and carried them in a bag on his way to work. In the locker room, he placed his books on the top shelf and changed into his scrubs. The recipes would wait. He had a duty.
Freshly dressed, he walked his floor. "Hello, Mrs. Smith!" He smiled at the elderly lady sitting in the sun room reading a book. In her day, she must have been a beautiful woman. She still was, for a woman in her eighties. "How was your day?"
"Horrible!" she growled. He sat beside her, held her hand and looked into her eyes. "My grandson didn't visit me." she continued. "He promised me he'd be here today." She adjusted her shawl and tried to hide the tears about to spill from her wizened eyes.
"Maybe tomorrow." he replied. "You know how busy these young people are." He noted the tear in the corner of her eye and changed subject. "Mrs. Smith, didn't you tell me you lived during the great depression?"
A smile came to her face. "Oh, yes. What a time that was. There was no work, ya know. But we survived."
"How did you get by?"
"Well, we all worked together. Everyone worked together. We helped each other." She frowned. "It's not like today, where people are too busy to worry about anyone but themselves. In those days, we worked together. If you didn't, you starved."
"It must have been a hard time, Mrs. Smith. I don't know how you did it."
"I didn't." she grinned. "We did. We did it together, the neighbors and my family."
He left her smiling and hoped her grandson paid a visit the next day.
He moved down the hall and stepped into Mr. Walker's room. "Hey, Walk! How's things?" He used the name Walk, as all the others in the center called him. It made Walk feel comfortable.
Mr. Walker looked up from a puzzle he leaned over. "Could be better, Mike. This damn puzzle has me stumped. These eyes aren't what they used to be."
"I know, Walk. Just take your time. There's no rush."
"There is too." Walk chuckled. "I need to finish it before I die."
"Not too soon I hope." Mike said.
"Soon enough. Be glad not to have to work on this darn thing anymore anyway Say! Have I told you about the guy who walks into a bar with a giraffe under his arm?"
Mike chuckled. Walk loved a good joke. "I don't believe you have."
Walk's face broke out in a smile. "You see, this guy walks into a bar with a giraffe under his arm. He has a few beers. The giraffe falls asleep on the floor. The bartender looks down, sees the giraffe and asks, 'What's that lying on the floor?'
"The guy says, 'That's not a lion! That's a giraffe.'"
Walk broke into a laugh that turned into a coughing spell. Mike slapped him on the back. "Come on, Walk. Cough it up."
Walk got himself under control. "Thought I wasn't going to finish this damn puzzle after all."
"You're OK now. I got your back."
"I know about covering someone's back." Walk sat straight in his seat. "I was in WWII ya know."
"I heard that. Did you have a hard time?" Mike asked.
"Mike, you have no idea. It was the winter of '41, or was it '42. I can't remember now. Snow was up to here." Walk pointed to his thigh. "We were on the front. The enemy was close ..."
Thirty minutes later, Mike said, "WOW! That's a story, Walk." He paused. "Walk, I knew you were in the war, but I don't think I ever thanked you. I want to say, 'Thank you.' You made us safe."
"Ah, stop it. It was nothing." Walk turned to his puzzle, too embarrassed to continue their talk. He and others knew what they did, but don't want to take credit. It's an unspoken rule between the veterans. They did what they had to.
Mike continued on his rounds, held hands, shared hugs and listened.
Here they were, like the cookbooks, sitting in dark corners, ignored. Mike knew what to do. He held them, let their hearts fall open, and found the pages stained with use.
They are the most valued. They are the pages long forgotten.
Copyright © 2011 Michael T. Smith
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