The Newberry Library used to have an annual bash in November called the Newberry’s Very Merry Bazaar. Different Chicago not-for-profits would set up booths on the first floor and sell selections from their gift shops or special holidsay merchandise or just something that related to their theme that they thought they could sell a bunch of in three days. It was a glittering, bustling weekend when much of the Near North visited to buy this year’s Christmas cards.
The Book Fair booth varied in size and location from year to year, but the offering followed a regular plan: art books, cookbooks, books on Chicago, books we just happened to feel like putting out, and any of the doodaddery that had come in with books in the previous year. (This is where we sold our legendary rubber squeaky toy shaped like Michelangelo’s David.) We met a largely different audience than at the Book Fair: Book Fair customers are looking for books, whereas the Bazaar customers were just looking for anything that was interesting or exciting, to use as a gift or to reward themselves for getting ready to do all their shopping.
One year, I spotted a girl about six years old at the entrance to our booth. She paused, interested, until her mother took her by the hand and pulled her along. “Come away, dear,” Mom said. “Those things are used.”
I’ve led a sheltered life, myself. I’d heard about these people, but had never actually seen one. Here was a child who had never eaten leftovers, who would never wear hand-me-downs, whose husband-to-be would one day beg in vain that she wear his great-grandmother’s diamonds at their wedding party. This child would one day live in a condo designed for her, with furniture delivered from the maker, and dishes with her own monogram on them. Here was someone who would never open a secondhand book to find an old pressed rose or the margin where someone scribbled “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong Wrong!”
I was so overcome by this glimpse into the life of one needy child that I had to go to the back of the booth and put donated Beanie Babies into donated wine glasses in the display. But I didn’t really cheer up until somebody picked up a cookbook that had someone else’s name scribbled inside, and exclaimed “This is perfect for Aunt Juleida!” And you can believe this story is true.
Because you didn’t get it secondhand.