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Possumhaw: Treasures in a brown paper bag


Shannon Bardwell



The walls of Toni's bedroom were lined with books from the floor to the ceiling. At the foot of the bed was a small sitting area with a thrifted brocade couch and a small coffee table, where Toni drank tea in real china tea cups, also thrifted. 


Toni's friends suggested she open a bookstore, so she did. She moved her books and the brocade couch and the coffee table and the tea and the tea cups to a rented storefront on a cobblestone street, where she offered books and tea to her friends and customers.  


The bookstore became a gathering place for book lovers, where they sat quietly and read or talked books or discussed deep subjects, and everyone said, "Hum ... " 


There were tiny little book lovers that gathered in the children's room that was no bigger than a closet but held the magic of the whole entire world. 


The most amazing thing in Toni's book world is the gift that she possesses in choosing the brightest and best books; all the books had been discarded or passed along in some form or fashion. When not at the bookstore, Toni spent countless hours at any venue that might provide books -- library book sales, flea markets, thrift stores, consignment stores, estate sales, garage sales and maybe even a dumpster or two. 


Not only does Toni have the gift of choosing fine books, she has the gift of choosing the right book for its intended reader. I have known Toni for some 40 years; she has been my best and most reliable book provider. 


I wish I could share her services with you, but Toni has since sold Pentimento Books in Clinton and retired to read to and create magic for her own grandchildren. The store, however, remains on the cobblestone street. 


On a recent visit Toni delivered a brown bag filled with books, including "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  


I'm humbled to admit I didn't know that Guernsey and Jersey were islands in the English Channel and home to the breed of cattle by the same names. The novel takes place during the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, after having been demilitarized by the British and most of its children evacuated. The novel was most appealing in its telling of the ingenuity and spirit of the Guernsey islanders under such desperate circumstances, from hiding a pig from the Germans to making soap with pig fat, to new friends finding solace in literature and each other, not unlike Toni's bookstore. 


I read that author Mary Ann Shaffer learned of Guernsey while vacationing in Europe; thereafter she took ill. She was able to complete the novel with the help of her niece, Anne Barrows. Mary Ann Shaffer died two months before her first novel's publication, and for that I was saddened. 


The next two books in Toni's brown bag were "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" and "Chez Moi."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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