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LOEWEN: What I found at the Summerland Ladies’ Auxiliary

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
July 29, 2015 - 8:23 AM

You never know what awaits you when you enter the Summerland Ladies’ Auxiliary Thrift Shop.

At the stroke of one p.m. on any given Tuesday, when the shop opens its doors, the Valley’s savviest shoppers have gathered into a teeming mass for at least the last half hour.

Local seniors may be the most unappeasable penny-pinchers of all, as they converge outside the gates of this singular Paradise for the Penurious. But they are not alone.

Plenty of itinerant field workers find their way through the crowded aisles to re-stock their work wardrobes on the cheap, or to add a frying pan to their camp kits.

And then there’s folks like me and Wendy, the curious cats always interested in acquiring a book or two for the to-be-read category on our shelves, or an indispensable whatsit to hang on a mantle or adorn an unmolested wall-space.

Once inside, however, you’re best advised to have the surreally wide-spaced eyes of a Steve Nash, because only preternaturally piercing peripheral vision will protect you from the sharp elbows or wayward canes that will strike you down before you ever reach the bargain of your heart’s desire.

Happily, yesterday’s trip to Summerland for the exercise in human spawning was a little out of the ordinary. For starters, we didn’t make it for the stroke of one. At about ten minutes after store-opening, we waltzed in like champs, ducking under a couple errant appendages, Wendy bee-lining it for the summer knits and your Wednesday monologist well on his way into the book section. Just past the convoy of table-coverings and the assemblage of dodgy DVDs.

The book section consists of about a hundred square feet of well-lined shelves bearing the castaways from local home libraries, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary sells them for a buck or two.

Standard offerings include way too many romances and supermarket bestsellers. But on occasion one will find rarities like a ramshackle volume of Reinhold Niebuhr or a yellow-marker-desecrated Theodor Adorno, a well-thumbed Nietzsche, a spick-and-span Spinoza, or an undergraduate reader in misunderstood Marxist political economy. And for the nationalistically-literary ninnies out there, there’s always a lot of Canadiana -- more Steven Leacocks, Bill Mitchells and Pierre Burtons than you can shake a canoe paddle at.

What caught my eye yesterday, though, was the un-shelved box adjacent to the handsome young whelp seated on an aged stenographer’s chair in the middle of the book-browsing multitude. The lad’s father was in the corner scanning book spines and the kid was desperate for something a little more edifying than a thrift shop visit on a sunny summer afternoon.

Paying no heed to the boy’s momentary misery, I slid in next to the box and into a crouch as compact as could be mustered by an old arthritic. I let my eyes rove over an unexpected selection of essay collections and books on writing. They were just waiting for me to pull as many into a cradled arm as I could carry when I heard the kid’s pained plea, “Dad... Can we GO now?”

Dad turned to answer the boy, but stopped short.

Instead, he just stared at me.

I was just barely upright, and trying to keep my newfound books from spilling out of my arms, when the boy's father broke the silence and asked, "Are you Jeff Loewen?"

Regular readers of my column may be surprised to learn that I am not universally famous.

Booksellers recognize the book-fiend in me, and I will occasionally have musicians nod in muted embarrassment when I cross their paths, but Valley columnists don’t tend to be celebrities, not even in their own communities. So it’s not often that we are asked about by name.

“I’m Seth Bergen,” the man said. “We’re Facebook friends.”

And then it sank in: this young man liked my writing well enough to add me recently to his menagerie of virtual friends.

But there was more to it -- and it taught me a lesson.

Seth was inspired, years ago, after reading one of my own father’s books about the Mennonite experience in the Soviet Union http://bookshop.pandorapress.com/book.php?id=3835), to reach out to the author as Seth was beginning a genealogical search into his own family history. Like my own father, Seth’s Opa had lived in a German-speaking Mennonite village in Soviet Ukraine.

And true to my Dad’s generous nature, he had been able to act as a mentor for the young man now before me.

“Your father, Jeff, has been such an encouragement to me. Your Mum too. The time that your Dad was able to spend with me as I began to search into my own roots I really appreciated. And your parents even came to Penticton to visit with me once to discuss these things. He’s a remarkable man, and I just want you to know that I am thinking about you and your family as your Dad comes to the end of his life. Please tell him that I send him greetings and my thanks. Your Dad’s guidance has been very special to me.”

And with that, my new friend Seth and his beautiful boy were off.

And I, cradling my books in my arms, was left alone amidst the stacks.
I felt a faint tug at the heart that gave way to a blossoming bulge in the throat.

We walk this world often unaware of the friends that idle alongside us. We can never know who will catch the concentric rings emanating away from ourselves and our forebears; but they are invariably caught. And it is a blessing when those who catch us also keep us in their hearts.

— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer to plays music by day and politics by night

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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