Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Holiday Tradition

I just learned about an old-time Easter tradition.

I don’t know if this game was well-known across the country or confined to just the Detroit area. But back in the early 1920s, when my uncle was growing up in this city, it was an annual tradition for boys (sorry, that’s the way I heard it; no girls allowed) to go out on Easter afternoon with a decorated egg in hand. In those days they didn’t have egg decorating kits featuring six different pastel colors or oil-based dyes that made swirly psychodelic patterns. Instead, you just boiled onion skins and dyed all your eggs red. Then on Easter you’d carry around your red egg and look for another boy (I told you: no girls allowed!) holding an egg. When you met, you tapped your eggs together. If your egg cracked, you had to give it to the other boy. If his egg cracked, he had to give it to you. If your egg was tough enough, you might end the day with a couple dozen eggs.

I thought this tradition might have died out over time, but recently learned of a family that began playing this game in the 1950s and continue to this day. I kind of wish they’d invited me over to play yesterday, as I would gladly have given up most of my twelve dyed eggs rather than eat egg salad sandwiches every day for the rest of this week.

Instead of tapping eggs, yesterday I engaged in one of my own personal holiday traditions: I went to a suburban library and donated a big box of books.

Most libraries accept used books which they either add to their circulating collections or sell for a couple bucks at annual booksales.

Because collecting books is my hobby, I always seem to have extra volumes to donate -- ranging from interesting galleys and advance reading copies to nearly pristine new books in a number of different genres. My problem is actually GETTING these books to the library. Like everybody else, I’m busy working all day and can’t get to the library except late in the evening or on weekends. When I’ve tried to donate books at those times, I’m usually told “The person in charge of donations isn’t here right now. Can you come back during NORMAL business hours?” (No.)

Then I discovered a library that makes it easy to donate books. They actually have a big dropbox for donations located right outside the building. Because the dropbox is open 24/7, it’s really convenient to swing by there at any time of the day or night and slide a few books down the chute. Over time I’ve developed a tradition of my own. It usually takes me a couple months to accumulate enough books to fill a box or bag...and since I’m always off work on holidays...and since most of the major holidays are about two months apart, I make a point of timing my book-donating visits to coincide with those holidays. Martin Luther King Day. Easter. Memorial Day. July Fourth. Labor Day. Thanksgiving. Traffic is always light on holidays; the library is closed and the parking lot is empty. It’s so easy to just breeze by on those holiday afternoons and slide book after book into the dropbox, grateful they offer this convenient way of donating.


Yesterday afternoon, as I dropped off my Easter donation of forty or fifty books, I was bothered -- as always -- by one thing. This library is one of the nicest around; in fact, it’s located in a very, very wealthy community. Every time I donate there, I struggle with guilt, thinking I SHOULD be giving my books to a library system in a middle- or lower-income city -- a place that can really use my offerings and might even add them to their collection so they can be enjoyed by many instead of sold for $2 a piece, as I suspect this wealthy library does with most of the volumes I donate. Yet those lower-income libraries are the very places that make it so difficult (“Can you come back during NORMAL hours?”) to donate.

I can’t help but think that if these less well-off libraries could somehow find a way of making book donating easier, they’d be surprised by the quality and quantity of books they'd begin receiving. I just looked online and discovered that book dropoff boxes cost between a thousand and fifteen hundred dollars. That's a lot of money for any struggling library to spend, but it might be a good investment. Or perhaps someone could cobble together a dropbox out of an old crate or backyard shed. You know the old phrase: If you build it, they will come.

I know I would. In fact, I’d be there next Memorial Day...then July Fourth....Labor Day....Thanksgiving....


Esperanza said...

Call any school or organization that serves low-income kids and families to work out a convenient time and place to donate. Much better than giving to a library in a wealthy area.

Catherine said...

Sadly, as I recently learned, the expense of the box isn't the problem. I recently moved to a neighborhood where the library not only doesn't have a donations box, they don't have a drop-off box (or even a slot in the door) so patrons can return library materials after hours. And they close at 6pm every night but one.

When I asked the librarian, she told me they used to have a box, but "people kept putting other things in it. So we had to take it down." It sounded like garbage was being dumped in the box--fast food wrappers etc.

I'd still like to support them but it seems like it's definitely going to require more effort on my part.