Dressed haphazardly and sitting on a tall suitcase, she looked homeless, so I avoided her—missing the chance to meet a woman with an inspiring message. That's a story for another time….but it reminded me of a lesson I should have learned long ago.
Mom liked exposing me to people, places, and activities that would broaden my teenage mind. In her view, I had no right to an opinion that wasn’t backed by a written expert (she was a librarian, after all). This was a woman who built her own log cabin (by first reading a book, of course).
At the time, I didn’t share her love of books, so she made sure I visited museums and watched documentaries, but it was her unusual adventures I remember most….
......like meeting Jake on the bookmobile.
As the library bookmobile traveled along the remotest parts of the Olympic Peninsula, the oddest assortment of people emerged from the woods, but Mom seemed to really know them. She asked about their family situations with genuine interest. It was like these woods people were actual friends.
Some lived without electricity, they used outhouses, and had creek water to bathe in. I could deal with an outhouse, but living without flipping on lights and not having long, hot showers? Not me.
I watched as they gladly checked out last month’s magazines, and hauled off stacks of books to bring back during next month’s visit. The bookmobile was the height of their entertainment, or so it seemed.
Then at a wide spot in the road, the hulking bus pulled over and Jake climbed aboard—the man my mom really wanted me to meet.
His grey hair was as long as his beard. He raised one bushy eyebrow as we were introduced. Jake looked ancient to my eyes. But to my mom, he wasn’t old; he was wise. I felt his scrutiny, like a professor wondering what a new student might bring to the conversation. Not much, he probably thought.
Mom reached behind the checkout console and handed Jake some books he’d requested—thick science texts. I inwardly rolled my eyes. Why did some mountain man need science books? Jake joked and conversed like he actually might have had a job at one point in his life. Yeah right, eye roll again. To me, he was an old bum choosing to live off the land rather than work for a living.
On a future Mom adventure, I met Jake again—not on the bookmobile, but with mud on his arms. He was a scientist on an archeological dig—preserving the relics of the ancient Native American cultures he’d dedicated his adult life to honoring.
Not the bum I’d thought he was. Mom found someone who shared her interests because she looked beyond the worn out shirt and scraggly beard.
Librarians don't judge a book by its cover, but Mom’s lesson was more than that: it’s best not to judge at all. Because you’ll miss life stories—the ones that can enrich your own life story.
I’m still learning that today, over forty years later.