I had the honor of helping pack up the leftover books of legendary book reviewer Fanny Butcher. The Newberry, when confronted by such an important collection, will often send a member of Senior Staff to remove the items of most concern (the books inscribed to her by Ernest Hemingway, in this case, among others.) There were still plenty of books for us to pack after they went through
The African-American housekeeper promised her full cooperation in the matter of a stepstool for the high shelves, and more boxes if we needed them, and so forth. She then disappeared, and we did not see her for nearly an hour. The lady who drove the car went in search of her and found her watching television. I didn’t see either of them for a while. Chicago station at that moment was an account of the unexpected and shocking death of Harold Washington, mayor of Chicago. To this day I can’t think of Fanny Butcher without thinking of Harold Washington, and vice versa.
I don’t really recall, at this point, WHY we went to pick up books on Memorial Day, when the library is closed. But we did drive out to a nice Chicago bungalow, where we found a wreath and a hat hanging on the door. The deceased had been an Air Force officer, and his sisters, who were cleaning out the bungalow, had decided to honor him properly on the holiday. Pity they couldn’t have been as particular in their book packing.
They had managed to get all the Major’s books into one box. It was a television box. Not the wimpy television box of today, though; this had contained a massive cabinet television, and was about the size of a spacious playpen. They realized it was very heavy, and offered me the wheeled base that the actual television rested on. I pointed out, very politely, that as they had been sorting clothes on the floor all morning, there was no path through the living room floor to push a cart that size, even if I had been able to lift the box onto the cart.
They offered to clear a path, but I told them, still very politely, that this would allow me to move the box five feet to the front door, after which there were nine steps down to the sidewalk. The lady who drove the car went back to the Library and somehow managed to convince the security guard to let her into the building to get smaller boxes.
We had our reward, in a way. The ladies had no idea what to do with the Major’s liquor cabinet, and felt uneasy about putting a bottle of Scotch, a bottle of cognac, etc. out at the curb. Could the lady who drove take them? (Maybe I looked too young. Maybe they felt I was unreasonable enough sober.) We used these as gifts. No, honest, neither of us drinks enough for that kind of collection, and the Book Fair has no license to sell it. Come to think of it, I never did ask the lady who drove the car how she got the security guard to unlock the back door.