The Book Boy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


Jacob sets out to find job and discovers the work can be satisfying.

Submitted: June 11, 2018

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Submitted: June 11, 2018

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The Book Boy

A Short Story by Jack Kay

The school year ended in June and I passed again by the skin of my teeth into Grade 8, I had just turned twelve in May and it was 1946. I saw the summer as a time to play baseball, read one of my wonderful collection of books or just sit on our porch and watch the world go by... It wasn't to be however, as my mother had other plans for me.

"Mow the lawn, clean the basement, wash the windows and other tasks and I will reward you with five dollars a week." She said, perfectly enthralled with her employment selection. She often had great ideas for me like the time she told me to ask my father to go fishing which turned out to be a disaster when I dropped the rod in to the lake off the dock. My father fished all afternoon trying to recover it. Another forgetful event was when I was told to go to the supermarket to buy some canned goods and I somehow lost the money. My mother was furious as the store was only a few blocks from our home.I did search but you know in those days $2.00 was a fortune and it was finder’s keepers!

The work mission began the next day and again I messed up whenmy Dad came home he took one glance at the lawn and without commenting he went over my sloppy job, commenting to my mother not to let me near the lawnmower again. I suddenly realized if I did an inefficient job my summer employment would be terminated. I started on the windows the next day with the same disastrous consequence. The windows were smeared, with soap everywhere. I didn't even try to do the job badly it just came naturally. My father commented that I was a "jack of all trades and master none". My mother realized her experiment with me was over and told me the five buck salary was going to be used to actually hire a needy person to do the work! My father smirked, took his newspaper into the living room where he actually began to giggle from behind his newspaper.

My older brother who had a job in a shoe store for the summer doing stock said to me ”Jake you are a real jerk, go around and hunt something up otherwise I can see you being trotted off to a summer camp like I was. Black Flies, mosquitoes, bad food, girls with pimples, nasty camp councillors, out- houses you know what I am saying."

So I went looking for work!

***

The next day I slipped out very early munching a peanut butter sandwich while riding my bike. First I headed to our local drugstore where I asked the manager if he had any odd jobs to be done.

"You have peanut butter all over your face kid" He said laughing uproariously.

He was still chortling when I ran out of the store. I glanced in the store window and my face was covered in peanut butter so I went into the washroom of the Chinese restaurant next door run by an Asian man. I washed myself but not very carefully and used paper towels. When I exited the washroom I was confronted by the owner, who said "Hey you no buy meal, you no use toilet."He hollered and pointed to the door.

I skipped out thinking that my destiny was being discouraged by some bad choices. Sometimes even at an early age fate intervenes, with surprising results. But I was quickly running out of ideas. Most of the stores were dress shops or variety stores and I was now becoming too timid to enter them. I decided to head for the library located near the Baseball Park and think out my next move.

There it was in large block letters pinned to the bulletin board the answer to my dreams and aspirations.

HELP WANTED

SEE LIBRARIAN FOR INFORMATION

I went to the circulation desk and requested to see the librarian. "I am she, and what you is are wanting" 'she said in a rather haughty manner.

"The help wanted, I am interested" I stammered.

She led me into a back room which smelled badly of books, old, with a stinky toilet and other odours I couldn't identify. She directed me to sit on a metal chair in front of a desk hidden behind piles of boxes. There was a name plate located in front of a blotter showing her name to be: ALBERTA BROWNE CULLEN. I glanced at it thinking wow she has a name with the first three letters of the alphabet. She asked me several questions all of which were my name and where I lived and did I have a bicycle, and finally how many hours I could work. I responded like I knew what I was talking about but in reality I was not very accurate.

"Well Jake you seem like a very nice young man but I want to mention a few important matters. This position requires you to be well dressed and groomed as you will be meeting the public. Right now you have something I can't make out on your lips and on your cheeks. Your clothes are somewhat wrinkled and you need a haircut.In the event you change your appearance I might consider you for this employment although I do have a very pretty girl named Gladys who fits the bill. "

I didn't really know what to say except to ask "what is it that I would have to do?"

"Ah yes I will explain. We have long list of books that are overdue and missing. We need to send out someone to get them back to us. That is accomplished by visiting the homes of the delinquent book borrowers and recovering the books. Also there is a matter of fines which you will be required to ask for at the time. Perhaps not as important as getting our property back but just the same you would have to tell them that unless the fine is paid they can no longer take out books. We have form letter and at the bottom is a space to write in the amount they owe to our library.I will give you an opportunity to try out for the job if you like but I really only require one person as yet. So if you would like to try out for the position it will be next Monday at 10:00 a.m. sharp here. I will of course inspect you to determine if you are ready to meet the Library patrons you will be visiting. Is that okay?"

I agreed and vamoosed out of the library. Next I knew would be to have the idea passed my parents.

***

The questions I asked were met with astonished looks on their faces.

My mother said almost immediately "have you got a girl friend" My father laughed and I turned red as a beet.

"No, I need to dress up because I want to be hired by the library."

My brother took one look at me and went into a hysterical laughing fit and was soon joined by my father.

"Okay you two out to the living room while I get to the bottom of this.” my mother said barely unable to withhold a laughing fit as she directedthem out.

"Now Jake tell me all the details"

I narrated the whole story and knew my dad and brother were listening by the door. The next day we took the bus to the Jenkins Big Boy Store down town where she bought me two pairs of pants and two shirts to match. Next we headed to the barbershop where I had a trim and she sat watching with a big smile on her face remembering I guess when I was small and had my earliest cuts. We then stopped at the Woolworth store where she purchased an Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil. She told me that I would need it for my job. It was now lunch hour, we stopped at the restaurant counter in Kresgies where she bought us hotdogs with all the fixings along with a root beer. I hung onto the package very tightly as we took the bus home thinking how lucky I was to have such a great mom. I guess boys my age really never think in those terms. Through my entire life and while she was still around she always told me I was an easy kid to bring up. If there was any trouble on my part, it was discussed. My dad left all disciplinary matters to her and she handled it all without resorting to corporal punishment. I knew that I was fortunate. I often heard through the open windows in the summer my next door neighbour Audrey getting a hiding. Secretly I was glad because she was mean and miserable to me. My only penalties were being confined to my room or no allowance.

But now I looked forward to my opportunity for a job. I didn't know how much it paid but in reality that was to me not very important. I found out however that it became as I time went by a large issue.

***

I awoke early on Monday, scrubbed myself up and dressed in my new clothes. My brother told me suddenly that I looked sharp and wished me luck. My dad and I shared breakfast with my mother and he was very encouraging. He told me "keep smiling kid you can't lose" and as usual giggled as he headed out to work at the Ford Motor Company.

When I arrived at the Library, Gladys was already there and I recognized her from my school. She was the smartest and prettiest girl in the First Form of grade seven. She was stuck up and kept to herself. We were introduced by the Librarian who told us to call her Miss ABC. She handed us each a canvas bag similar to a newspaper boy's container with the Library name imprinted in Block letters. She also handed us a list of names, with addresses, the books they were holding and their fines.

"The missing books are more important than the fines and must be very careful to not insist but to point out that they can't borrow any more books until the fines are paid. I also have badges for you which have been printed on cardboard and covered in plastic with a pin so they will know that are official representatives of the library. Pin these to your shirt Jacob and to your dress Gladys. Now as to payment. You will receive 50 cents an hour regardless whether you recover any books or not. You will also receive 50 cents for each book you return to the library. Are there any questions?"

She waited momentarily and with her best wishes sent us off to work.

I headed out on my bike with my basket tightly in place with the bag inside. The first place on the list was located only a few blocks from my house on Rankin Avenue. After knocking on the doora little very old lady answered and after much discussion as towho I was disappeared into the house and returned withthree books and asked how much she owed and placed a five dollar bill in my hand.

"I guess I have caused a problem so here is a little extra for your trouble" she said I thanked her and left.

I kept knocking on doors all morning with similar results. I met up with other people in my class who had piles of books, and I was not able to carry them all in my basket. I had collected nearly twenty books and I ran by the library, thinking I could work over lunch and bag several more books.

Miss ABC was absolutely shocked as were her co-workers with my treasure trove. I turned in twenty-one books and the money and she said that two hours a day was my maximum, meaning in my first day I made about ten dollars. Gladys came back with two books and no money. I felt a smug feeling sense of what is called euphoria come over me. It was my first real taste of success and without saying anything I was told to return on the following Wednesday to begin work as I was now the official Book-Boy. Gladys did congratulate me and for some reason I felt badly for her and asked if she would like a coke at the Diane Sweet Shop. I was stunned when she agreed with a very bright smile.

It appeared like something out of the blue that she seemed impressed by my success. She asked me what I had done to get all the books returned and I really couldn't answer. She smiled a lot and we spent the whole lunch hour talking.

"I am having my birthday party next Saturday would you like to come." she suddenly asked.

I blushed bright red and immediately said I would. She gave me the address which was on Campbell Avenue only a few blocks from my home.

When we left the Soda shop she to me "Jacob I am so happy you got the job, I really don't think I was cut out to go to people's homes, so my Mom said and she was right, but I am glad you did well and I am so happy to meet you outside of school. See you next Saturday."

In my short life I had never had such an eventful day. I got the job and perhaps even a girl as a friend.

***

The moment I walked into our house my mother cornered me asking all kinds of questions which I answered with short answers. She became frustrated almost immediately and I was told to give an entire roundup of the morning's events. She was really impressed and kept saying over and over "Jakey (whenever she wanted me to know she loved me she called by that name).You are so clever, and making ten dollars your first day on the job, you are remarkable."

Then I told her that my competitor was Gladys, a school mate who was in the First Form grade eight now.

"She must have been really angry losing out to you?"

"Well not really, we went to Diana's for cokes after and she invited me to her birthday party next Saturday.

My mother collapsed on the dining room chair in total convulsive laughter. She took hold of me and hugged me like I was a baby and was not able to speak for a few minutes and then said:

'You are really something Jakey, what a winner!

I had to repeat my story at dinner but I felt really good because I had one- upped my brother and he had very little to say. My dad was impressed, more so that I had been successful immediately.

***

My next day of work proved to be a real dud. I went to five houses, and no one answered although I could see peeking through the windows. I did manage to get two books and collected a dollar. Miss ABC was happy however and said she would pay me on Friday which became my best day of the week.

My mother suggested we go downtown and buy Gladys a birthday gift on Thursday at Woolworth’s and I could hardly sleep thinking about what we should buy for a girl I only really knew from school. Happily for me Mom had an answer. A pen and pencil set, from Evans Stationers costing $3. 50. The pen set was a Waterman and was really neat. It came ina case and was a bit thinner for a girl's use. The pencil was mechanical like mine.She got a card as well and I scrawled my name with Best Wishes on the inside.

Mom packed the gift in birthday wrapping paper and on Friday night pressed my good pants and shirt. The party was at One O'clock and just before I left she took my picture, and combed my hair. I walked over to the house on Campbell Avenue and I felt just a little bit nervous.The house was set back from the road with a drive way right up the front porch of the place. I rang the bell and Gladys answered. They both greeted me and I handed over the birthday gift and she looked quite excited. Her mother told me that so far I was the only boy but others had been invited. They never did show so I felt kind of special with 7 girls and just me.

We played some games and had sandwiches with KICK Root Beer and later ice cream with birthday cake. The highlight for Gladys was the opening ofgifts including mine. She received mostly clothing items from friends and family and some jewellery. She also got a book of tickets to movies. When she opened my gift she was absolutely thrilled, or so it seemed. Her mother said what a practical gift for school. She immediately tried both the pen which my mother had filled with Blue--Black Waterman ink. The nib was not scratchy and the words she wrote just rolled onto a lined pad.She tried the pencil and mentioned that it was something she always wanted. Her Mother whispered to me that I was always welcome at their home and expressed their gratitude to me for the delightful gift. I thanked both for the invitation and was glad Mom had coached me about being polite.Gladys handed me her phone number and name written with her new pen and she took my hand, holding it very tightly. I walked out like I was on air.

I survived the questioning when I got home and we had taken out Chinese food which was becoming very popular in our home and around town.

Gladys and I became great friends and went through Graduation from both Grade School and High School together. She was my first and only girl friend and wherever I went, she was there with me me, but when she went away to college, our relationship ended. She left our town permanently and took a job several miles away when she finished University becoming a lawyer and we never saw each other again nor did we have news of her.

***

I continued with my Library-Boy job through the summer, picking up several books as I went. I made some good money and had lots of fun. But one book I got returned stands out in my mind as the most important recovery of the whole summer.

I visited many homes and one day I began the day at the far reaches of my route. The streets in the area were named after birds. Sparrow Lane, Cardinal Avenue and Robin Street were just a few of the locations.This was what was called low cost housing and the homes were dilapidated and many required painting. The house I wanted to visit was on Sparrow lane. The children on the street played on the lawns which were covered in weeds and rocks. When I rang the door bell on the home a small child dressed in a tee shirt and a diaper opened the screen and said hello. She was followed by a boy whom I knew from school named Burton.

'Hey Jake you selling magazines or what, cause my Mom is out at the welfare office. "

"No Burton I am picking up books for R J Richardson Library and you have some I think."

'Wow... there is a pile out here on the veranda, and some more in the house I will get them for you."

"What are you paying to get them back?” he said

"Nothing Burton they belong to the library, and are overdue."

“My Mom will kill me because we need them now for the toilet" he said pointing into the open door of the house.

I had never been confronted with this kind of logic and so I said that this was a time to give them back and avoid the heavy fines that were due. He looked at me and asked for money again. Paying for the books to get them back had not ever been discussed nor did it appeal to me so I did not have an answer until it suddenly came to me out of the blue.

”I will give you 10 cents for every book you give me and you can keep the books you have in your bath room."

He was now running to the pile on the porch and handing them to me and raced into the house for more. I just placed them all in my canvas bag and did not pay attention. There were ten books he returned so I handed him dollar and he ran into the house shouting: "Hey Dad I got a dollar for all them Books."

It was a really a heavy load but I raced away quickly before his father came out. When I reached the edge of the park near the library I stopped and began to check the books. One of them was gold edged with a thick cover and inlaid gold lettering. There were a number of coloured pictures covered with tissue paper. There were penciled scrawls all over some pages but they could be erased. The book was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

When I arrived at the library Miss ABC was busy with a man who was asking her a lot of questions. She beckoned to me to follow her to her office.

'So Jake what have you got today. I removed the books from my bag and she checked off her list and wrote down some notes. I then removed the Ivanhoe book from my bag and handed it to her. It was as if I had handed her a massive fortune. She reached into her drawer and removed white gloves to handle the book and took a cloth and began to carefully clean the cover and back boards.

''Jacob you have uncovered a treasure, this book is the most expensive book in our library and was stolen almost a year ago from our classical shelf -you know the books-only to be read in library.I nodded and watched as she carefully cleaned the book and began to rub out the pencil markings. It was then that I noticed a small card sliding out of the spine. It fell onto the desk and I reached over and picked it up. It was a printed card from the publisher it said:

Provincial Publishers- Toronto- Halifax

LIMITED EDITION

Ivanhoe ____5______ of ______50____

I handed the card over to Miss ABC and she broke down into tears. I was flabbergasted and thought what I did to make her cry. She got up and came over and hugged me, and said through her tears" Jacob you have been a God Send to this Library and now you have returned to us a book worth more than it's price because it is a rare book that we must protect for future generations."

"I paid ten cents to get it back" I said laughing, so she would cheer up, and she did, smiling and laughing with me.

"Later I was rewarded with $10.00 and although the job was over when school started I would never get over the pride that I felt in have done something as significant as recovering books for the library.In September a letter arrived to my parents from the Chairman of the Board of the City Library congratulating me for my work.

It was perhaps my first service but I went on later to serve Canada in our military Forces for thirty-five years.

Jack Kay June 2018


© Copyright 2018 Jack Kay. All rights reserved.

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