He had started coming to the library a few months ago. Anita guessed he was about 70 or 75 and she clearly remembered his first visit. Unlike so many pushy, impatient patrons, when it was his turn he had stood quietly twisting his hat in his hands until she noticed him.
He was neatly dressed, although his shirt pocket was slightly torn and the edge of his hat was frayed. Also, his pants had been given a hit or miss ironing. A widower, she surmised correctly. He reminded her of her grandfather and she was touched by his air of diffidence.
“May I help you?” she asked.
Leaning forward, he lowered his voice, as if about to impart a shameful secret. “Yes Ma’am. I want to mail my kids.”
Anita stared at him, not sure if she had heard him correctly. “Did you say ‘mail your kids’?”
He nodded. “They don’t have the time to read letters and said I should learn how to use the computer and mail them.”
“Oh, you mean email them! Sure, I’ll help you get started.” After signing him up for a library card, she led him to a computer.
Although it had taken him awhile to learn how to use the mouse, sign on and set up an account, pretty soon he didn’t need her assistance. During their training sessions, she learned his name was Harry Bennett, his wife had died two years ago and he had a son and daughter and four grandchildren. He had proudly pulled out a worn wallet and showed her the pictures of his grands. Pictures were all he seem to have, since they lived pretty far away.
When he found he could contact them on the computer and possibly get a quick reply, he came every Wednesday morning at 11am, without fail, rain or shine. She could usually tell when he had received an email because he would nod and smile at the monitor as he read, using his full hour to write back. When there was nothing, his shoulders sort of slumped and he didn’t stay on long.
She was surprised when he showed up one Friday afternoon with a bakery box in his hand. As he offered it to her, he said “Just wanted to thank you for all the help you gave me. It means a lot to me to be able to talk to the kids that way. Sometimes they send pictures.”
Moved, Anita shook her head and gently pushed the box back towards him. “Thank you so much Mr. Bennett, but no. We can’t accept gifts for doing our job. It was my pleasure to help you.”
He looked crestfallen for a moment. “Please. It would make me very happy. These were my wife’s favorite cookies. Calypso Crunch.” With a boyish grin, he wheedled, “They have pineapple bits, coconut, pecans…” Laughing, Anita held up her hand for him to stop. “OK! OK! I’ll put them in the staff room for everyone. Thank you!”
Then one week he didn’t show up. Perhaps he‘s gone out of town, Anita thought, as she glanced at the clock on Wednesday morning. It was already twelve, with no sign of him. When she didn’t see him the following week either, she began to worry. Although patron records contained contact information, it was considered confidential unless needed for library business. Would she be violating policy by checking on him?
After three more weeks went by and he still had not shown up, Anita decided, policy or no policy, she was going to see if he was alright. Pulling up his record, she jotted down his telephone number and on her lunch break, called him on her cell phone. When she got his answering machine, she identified herself, said she hoped he was well and thanked him again for the delicious cookies.
The following Thursday, Mr. Bennett walked in with a big smile on his face and an attractive, older woman in tow. He introduced her and then said “I got your message. Two wonderful things have happened. My kids bought me a computer for my birthday and I joined a senior’s center, where I met this lovely lady.I’m going to teach her to use the computer.” He grinned and waggled his eyebrows up and down. They chatted and then he said, before turning away, “And next time, instead of calling, why not just ‘mail’ me.” And he gave Anita a big wink.
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