I'm happy to report that our Shopper returned this year.
She is about 65-70 years old. She is small and she has one of those wonderfully open faces that just shines with a love for people. All of her wrinkles are the result of smiling.
She comes in the store the day before Christmas with a piece of yellow legal pad paper. It is neatly printed with a list of names of the people she is buying for, and the names of a couple of book ideas next to each one. She picks up a shopping basket and zeros in on one of our booksellers. She has the knack of picking one who is new to the store and doesn't know about her yet.
The bookseller spends a good half-hour to forty-five minutes helping her shop her list. She tells sweet stories about each person on the list and the bookseller really gets caught up in the woman's pleasure of shopping for her special people.
Then, she asks the bookseller to take the basket up to the cash line for her while she browses a bit for herself.
An hour later, the bookseller asks a cashier if she has seen the woman. No one has, of course, and the basket is still waiting to be claimed.
There is a lot of speculation about her. Is she mentally disburbed and living in a make believe world peopled with all those names she is buying for?
Is she an addictive shopper who can't afford to buy, but gets her fix by shopping?
Does she have some melancholy back story that involves the tragic loss of her family?
We can't agree, but we do agree that it makes her very happy to shop with us on Christmas Eve. We understand that we need to help her play out this ritual. She doesn't want to be challenged into our reality. She needs to be treated like any other customer. That's why we never warn the new people about her.
Another thing we all agree on, we're humbled and honored that she has chosen our store.
We've named her "Mary". I hope she comes back every year!