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Never too Late to Change

Funny. I had another article in mind to write for this week, and then it hit me. Garfield. Do you remember the craze around that persnickety cartoon cat by Jim Davis? When I was a teenager I loved following the comic strip. Actually, I loved everything cats (before I realized my allergies stemmed from my own cat, Oreo). I decorated my room with the Kliban Cat, the one who wore red sneakers. And every Sunday I couldn’t wait to sit down, newspaper in hand, to read Hägar the Horrible and Garfield.

So it was really no surprise when a stuffed animal version of Garfield appeared in our family Yankee Swap one year that I had my eye on him. I’d picked a good number too, or so I thought. The only problem? My eight-year old cousin had decided to enter the “grab.” Her mother had assured everyone that she knew the rules and we shouldn’t treat her any differently. When she opened the box that held Garfield, she had a look of sheer delight. But wait? I thought. She doesn’t follow the comics like I do. She doesn’t appreciate the humor between Garfield and his owner, Jim. Not to mention, like I said, I had the higher number. So when it was my turn, I went in for the kill. I swept Garfield in a flash and deposited whatever hand knit coat hanger or crocheted soda can hat I’d opened instead.

I should have been ready for the tears, but I wasn’t. The right thing to do would have been to put myself in her place. Instead, I reassured myself I was playing the family game fairly. After all my cousin had said she wanted to be a part of the “adult” swap. Wasn’t I justified in taking the gift from her? The terrible thing was I didn’t feel so great after I took it. Not to mention the adults looked at me like I was the Grinch. Suddenly Garfield didn’t feel so warm and snuggly in my arms.

As it turned out I didn’t have the best number. Number 1 belonged to my Uncle Norman. He was the loveliest great uncle. He did things that other uncles wouldn’t typically do. He loved to bake (I still make his Quiche Lorraine). He kept finches in his tiny apartment. He crafted hats for ladies on Newbury Street and he could whip up a dress or skirt for my grandmother in no time. He also had heart of gold. I don’t remember what he said to me when he came over, but I know he folded Garfield in his arms and handed him to my tearful cousin.

That was one night when my personality didn’t shine, but I’d like to think my character has changed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I still love unwrapping presents at the holidays. However, I’ve matured enough to know that it’s not the “things” in life that matter. At this time of year especially I’m reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Who doesn’t love to read Charles Dickens’ story or watch the movie? Who can forget Scrooge’s dramatic change of heart? Perhaps Dickens’ story has stood the test of time because there is a bit of Scrooge in all of us. The night I took the stuffed animal away from my cousin, I was young and driven by the selfish desire to own Garfield. The good news is people do change.

Recently I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and I fell in love with a bookseller named A.J. Fikry. He was a character whom I could relate to because he becomes a better person. In the beginning of the book, he is a young curmudgeon. His life is not going according to his plan. Not only has his wife died unexpectedly, but he has been left in charge of a desolate bookstore on the island of Alice. His misery consumes him and the only pleasure he finds is in his books, especially a rare one that he owns by Edgar Allan Poe.

And then, as with all good stories, something unexpected happens. Someone steals A. J.’s precious book, Tamerlane. Around the same time something, or should I say someone, arrives in his bookstore that turns his life around. I don’t want to give too much away but, like Scrooge, these events move A.J.’s soul like nothing has done before. In the process, his bookstore begins to become a center of community, like a well-run library.

Granted The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and A Christmas Carol are works of fiction, and yet fiction reveals truth, too. We might not meet with Marley’s Ghost in the middle of the night, but it’s nice to know that we have the ability to change our outlook on life. We can choose to become more caring and less self-absorbed. Maybe it’s as easy as bringing some figgy pudding to a friend’s door or shoveling the walkway for a neighbor. We only need to be open to that stirring.

Today I will be delivering a pink hoodie and bracelets to a young girl whose father is incarcerated in a local prison for the Angel Tree. As I write, I wonder if she likes cats. If I could find one, I’d like to wrap up Garfield to go with the other packages. That might be a good sign that I’ve come full circle. Still I know I have “miles to go before I sleep.” Either way, I’ve learned the same lesson as Scrooge and A.J. Fikry: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Here’s wishing you a very happy holiday!

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the December 21, 2017 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Liz Reed

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