I'm a shy guy. And an extreme introvert. So, as a general rule, if I'm given the choice between being stuck in conversation with somebody or sitting in front of the fire by myself with my nose in a book, I'll take the latter every time.
There are exceptions. Jake is one of them.
I showed up at the Booksmith a little before 5:00, carrying a bottle of wine. We both look forward to these evenings, which I try to fit in every two or three months or so. I pick up the books that have collected since my last visit (this time it was Wynton Marsalis's ABZ, which I'll give to Josie on her birthday next month, and a couple of books of poetry by Kay Ryan. I grabbed a book by MFK Fisher as well, and a novel that Jake recommended).
Up we go to his little office; we settle in and open our mouths and start telling stories and asking questions. The rest of the world disappears. Last night we touched on these topics: the similarities between the business of independent bookstores and hospital libraries, and how one assures the survival of one or the other; the first editions program at the Booksmith, how it differs from similar projects of other bookstores around the country, and how it has so far exceeded Jake's hopes for it; the quality of the people that have come to work for him in the years that he's been running the bookstore and how in awe of them he is; how that is similar to some of the youngsters who spend a few years working in my library; whether or not Anne Rice and Stephen King constitute "literature" and what that means in one's decisions about what to read; why I think that James Joyce's Ulysses is a great fun novel and why Jake thinks I'm nuts; how my mother and I are alike and how we're different, and what that means in terms of introverts and extroverts and why I think Jake actually leans toward the former, despite his being one of the most gregarious and social people I've ever met; why there is so much great inexpensive wine on the market these days, how the wine industry has developed, the ways in which wine makers are similar to writers and painters, and how developing a taste for different wines parallels the ways in which a scotch drinker develops a taste for Islay malts as opposed to Speyside.
As we walked to the door, I told him about tending to Josie on New Year's night. Both Marian & Josie had colds that had been gathering in intensity during Christmas week. By New Year's Eve, when they came over to our house, Josie was sounding very congested and Marian was feeling pretty miserable. The plan had been that they would have the traditional New Year's dinner of hoppin' john and pork chops with us and then go home, but by that point Marian was feeling awful enough that we sent her home by herself and kept Josie so that she could get a decent sleep and then call for doctor's appointments in the morning.
I'm pretty good at getting Josie to sleep. I stretch out on the couch and I tuck her into the crook of my left arm and I hold a book or magazine in my right hand and I read out loud and the rumble of my deep voice soothes her and she gradually nods off. I can feel her relax, and when she goes into the deep sleep there's a sort of "chunk" that shivers through her body and then I know that she's turned into a rag doll that isn't going to wake up when I put her on her blanket on the living room floor or up into her crib. So on that Sunday night, I thought it would be like that.
But the little critter was so congested that every time she'd start to nod off, her labored breathing would wake her back up and she'd howl in her misery. (Jake was nodding, wistfully, at this point -- I could tell he'd been there with his own kids). I'd settle her back down and comfort her as best I could. She'd be looking up at me with those beautiful sad brown eyes and I'd talk to her and make little jokes and she'd smile and suck on her pacifier and we'd go through the whole sequence again.
This went on for two hours. Finally, she seemed to be asleep (although I didn't feel that "chunk" of deep sleep) and I took her upstairs and carefully laid her in her crib. I wasn't to the bottom of the stairs before I heard her howling, and when I went back upstairs she was standing in her crib, holding onto the rail, looking as pitiful as a little critter can be. I picked her back up and settled down on the bed in the guest room. I went back to reading and consoling and joking and talking and watching her drift off and wake up and howl. She wanted to go to sleep so bad, and she just couldn't do it.
Another two hours went by. It was a little after midnight. Lynn had gone to bed hours before. Josie was now actually waking up some. As is typical for her, even in her misery she'd been in a pretty good mood. So now she was looking up at me, eyes wide open, stroking my beard (which seems to be a big mystery to her), listening to me read. I got up and set her in her crib with a couple of her animals. I thought that if I stayed right there, she'd be okay with it. And she was, and fifteen minutes later when I looked over, she'd done a nose dive into the mattress and was sound asleep, with her butt sticking up in the air. I threw a blanket over her (not daring to move her), and eventually went to sleep myself.
At some point the next day, Lynn was thanking me, and apologizing for my having gone through that. I said, "No, no, it was great. It sure wasn't what I'd planned on for the evening, but it was a wonderful experience. I mean, I was frustrated, sure; and impatient and annoyed and my arm was getting sore and all that; but to be there with her and to feel the nurturing and to know that I was giving her that comfort and security -- that was wonderful. I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like it." Lynn beamed up at me and shook her head at my naivete -- "That's what parents go through every single day."
Jake laughed and laughed. "You're getting to it late in life, my friend."
Better late than never. I left the bookshop and walked out into the rain.