Saturday, August 9, 2008

Try a little kindness

It was just a little thing--a shiny piece of heavy paper folded to about 2 inches square and sporting a perky photo of an otter. Under the sea mammal's mug shot is some golden cursive writing that reads "Cambria, CA."

It's a bookmark, complete with matched magnets inside each flap. To use it, I fold the marker over the top of the last page I read. Snap! Being a good little bookmark, it won't fall out and lose my place in the process.

I buy them five or six at a time at Cambria Drug & Gift, because they're handy for those of us who read in bed at night and don't want to have to scrabble around in the covers to find a lost bookmark at 11 p. m., when all we really want to do is close the book and, finally, go to sleep.

Husband Richard and I read lots of books. We buy some, but primarily we check them out at the Cambria Public Library.

Our tri-county library cards are good at any of the branches, which is a lovely perk when we're out of town with 10 or 15 minutes to spare. (September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so you might want to beat the rush and do it early.)

Whenever I finish a book (or decide it's not worth my time and mental effort to read it), I take out my bookmark and move it to the next book on my nightstand.

It doesn't always happen, however.

So, before husband Richard makes his weekly library trek to trade in a bagful of books we've read for those we haven't, it's always our intention to check every book for left-behind, forgotten markers.

That doesn't always happen, either.

We're well aware of our failings and foibles. So, before we ever use a new bookmark, I label the back with a self-adhesive address label (from among the hundreds sent to us so often in the mail, along with fervent pleas for donations in support of good causes).

Fortunately, when our bookmarks stay stuck in books we've returned, Cambria's lovely library ladies and genial gents find the markers and save them for us, thanks to the address labels that tell them whose bookmarks they are.

Very rarely, that doesn't happen, either.

In mid-July, I got a note from Mary Flores of Nipomo. I don't think I know any Nipomo residents, let alone a Mary Flores. I studied the envelope, trying to exercise my ESP to divine who she could be.

It didn't work. Finally, when I opened the envelope, one of our bookmarks fell out.

On a perky greeting card, Mrs. Flores had written: "Hi! I found this in a book from the Nipomo Library. Since you have a return-address label on it I assumed you would like your cute little bookmark returned. I know I would like it back if it were mine. Mary Lou."

How delightful! I had just received an act of random kindness from a stranger, a thoughtful gesture that cost her a snippet of time, the price of the card and a 42-cent postage stamp.

Yes, it was just a little thing, but it made me smile for days.

So, of course, as soon as I could, I stopped at the drug store to buy more bookmarks.

I stuck one in a bright "Thank You!" greeting card with a note.

"How kind you were to send back my bookmark. I try not to leave them in the books I read, but sometimes I forget. One sweet kindness deserves another, so I hope you'll enjoy having your own bookmark, and it will remind you what a nice person you are. Kathe."

Now, I do know someone in Nipomo, and we have a common bond. When we look at our little otter faces, maybe we'll think of each other and smile. Perhaps one of these days, we'll even meet somewhere in between, over tea and scones, and talk about books we love and other shared interests.

It was just a little thing, you see, but you just never know what might happen because of it.

Contact Kathe Tanner at


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