Once upon a time, it was the custom to send two volunteers out together on book pick-ups. In part, this was to increase our options. If a person had a car but couldn’t carry boxes, the person could be paired with someone who could lift but didn’t have the necessary vehicle. As time went by, we found ourselves with more and more drivers and fewer lifters, so we started to do it other ways.
Another benefit of the two-person system was that one person could do the hauling while the other person talked to the donor and wrote out the receipt. Just about everybody giving away books in bulk has a story to tell, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful, not very often boring. An extra pair of ears could free up a pair of hands to work without the need to respond to the narrative. Those who recall the story of the donor who admitted she had considered a multi-story drop to the pavement rather than having to watch us carry away her beloved books will remember how the driver in the story passed along the address for Talking Books, so the donor could listen to the books she could no longer see to read.
The driver in that story was one Carol B. Michael who, we have just learned, died this past December at the age of 92. She demonstrated many times her willingness to be helpful at two ends of a drive: hekping the Newberry by bringing books in, helping some friend she’d never met before by driving books away. With a lively mind and a quick sense of humor, she could take an interest in donors as people with stories, as well as books, to give.
One of her long-range projects was the moving, over a period of several years, of the books donated by the Nimses: John Frederick and Bonnie. John Frederick Nims, poet, translator, and editor, donated some of his books, and Carol was the driver who picked these up. She became so familiar with the staff at the building where the Nimses lived that eventually a book lifter was no longer necessary. The building staff simply loaded the boxes into her car and she drove them over to the library. After John Frederick Nims’s death in 1999, Bonnie Nims continued to call carol directly with further installments of the ongoing donation. This happens to our book picker-uppers a lot. Repeat offen…donors simply put the picker-upper’s number on speed dial and bypass the cranky middleman. Well after Carol had stopped making other book pickups, around 2005 or so, she would still drive another load over when Bonnie Nims called on her. The last load consisted of the books of poetry John had inscribed to Bonnie.
Most of the stories about carol are vehicular, in fact. She’s the volunteer I mentioned in another column, whose father owned a rooming house for vaudevillians where she used to ride her tricycle up and down the hall at 8 A.M. just to hear the new and interesting sounds made by singers and acrobats who hadn’t gotten to bed until 3. And then there was the way she’d load up her car with a friend and a few boxes of collectible doodads and head out to flea markets for the fun of meeting people and making a few dollars.
I expect she’s driving some kind of vehicle along gold-paved streets now, shifting harps or truckloads of snow (maybe that’s why we haven’t been dumped on this winter.) That’s assuming the Nimses were witnesses on her behalf, and not so much the vaudevillians.