Postcard to the Magi

It snowed the winter I moved to Cannon Beach.  When I made my final trip to the Oregon coast the day before Christmas, it looked like the beach in winter dressed for the holiday season. Twinkle lights and mock snow drifts surrounding shop windows, haloed street lights tousled with circled boughs of cedar; the scene had all the visuals of a winter-set romance or a cozy mystery prowled by a granny sleuth. It looked like Christmas all right, but my spirits failed to lift and all I wanted to do was park, unload the boxes of books, take my dog Banjo for a stretching walk and hold to my plans. If I kept my head down, ate well and toasted my new life with some bubbly, in just a few busy days I would step into a new year. Begin. Again. But begin. Those were the total of my holiday plans: lay low. In other words, let this holiday season just roll right over me.

The idea to open a used and rare book store when everything that constituted my life slipped into the ether came in a clear and loud way. Move to Cannon Beach. Open a used book store. And with all my heart I knew it would work. Friends and family, when I told them what I was going to do, donated enough books to fill nearly forty boxes. The last trunkful of books came with me to my new home on Christmas Eve.

It was going to take at least two weeks to get the shelf units built and rather than delay, I organized the books by category, alphabetized by author, and lined up the boxes of books to imitate aisles. I unpacked the final boxes of books while the old stove warmed us. And, with two floor lamps on and the soft chair near the stove, I felt comforted and proud of my hard work. That night, before I locked and left the store, I put a sign in the window: Open Soon.

Christmas morning the fog rolled back and the sky was a pale pearly washed blue. We walked along the empty stretch of beach and, woman and dog, found our own way to keep missing the old without fearing the new. I walked with the mantra: Lonely is only an idea. It was time to get to work.

The shop door chimed and Banjo was immediately on his feet. his tail wagging with rump-wiggling delight.  He walked toward a man and young woman who had just stepped into the shop. The man carried a small box and the girl was carefully balancing a cardboard coffee carrier. It held three tall to go cups, some sugars and tiny thimble shapes of coffee counter creamers. She extended the tray to me.

“Hello, there,” the man put down the box and squatted to stroke and twiddle Banjo’s floppy silken ears. Banjo thumped his tail one time against the girls long coat, and with a slow backward look went to his bed by the stove to watch. My visitors had brought me a large coffee, and in the box, applesauce cookies.

“We’re here to close up Mother’s house. She won’t be coming back to Cannon Beach and she asked me to bring her favorite granddaughter in her stead.” He beamed at his daughter and laid his coat across one of the chairs. “It’s a lousy time of year to have to let so many memories begin to go. We used to come here for Christmas every year. When we saw you in here last night we agreed that some Christmas morning cookies and a nice tall coffee would be a present we would like to give to you. A sort of toast to the past. And the present.”

We talked a long time. They asked about my life and what had brought me to Cannon Beach. Our words skipped with our stories and wove through thoughts about books and memories, beginnings and endings.

I never saw them again, although they shared their hopes of coming back some summer. The next Christmas season I thought about having a plate of cookies and a thermos of coffee.  But then I abandoned those plans. Remembering the gentle surprise of a visit from two strangers, I decided that the gifts of every season and spirit arrive uninvited and unprepared for. That kind of magic is renewable: Its name is kindness.


  1. Watt ChildressWatt Childress says

    Sitting here next to the little stove at Jupiter’s Rare & Used Books, I’m doubly warmed by this seasonal post. So glad you started selling books in this funky location, Mary Lou. Doing my best to carry on the tradition.

    Have a blessed holidays!

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