It was 7:15pm - 1 hour and 15 minutes since I had set up my little table. I had sold 2 books to one person. And that person was my old college buddy. Things were not looking good.
My table looked perfect. My books were set at just the right angle. My trusty pen was ready. My welcome sign, that I'd laboured over for two days, was undeniably Scottish. The yellowed photo of my sweet, little great-grandmother added a little ambience and my hair hadn't wilted. Yet.
But I could feel the sweat starting to roll down my back and my smile was starting to quiver. Shoppers politely looked just above my head as they glided by on their way to the racks and racks of jewellery.
My book signing - the night I had obsessed over for days - was here. I sat nestled in amongst sparkling display cases of silver bracelets, rings and necklaces at Silverside, an upscale jewellery store in Port Perry, my hometown. It was Diva Night - the night when scores of ladies were on the prowl, chatting and giggling along with their shopping cohorts. The lovely staff smiled at me every once in a while as they busily served the rush of clients. And I felt invisible.
"Think we can sneak out without anyone noticing?" I whispered past by cardboard smile, to my wife, Jen.
"Don't worry. It's still early," she whispered back, patting my hand under the table.
Then, quite literally, the dam broke.
Suddenly I was signing my books. I was chatting with avid readers. I was talking about my story. I was an author at my book signing! I don't know what changed, but the rest of the evening was a blur of memorable moments.
My old neighbour, the kindest dairy farmer I have ever met, and most certainly on the other side of eighty, drove up from his daughter's home to see me and purchase my story! I hadn't seen him in thirty years and he took me back to a time of innocence and freedom.
As children, my brother, Danny, and I regularly visited Mr. Aldred's milkhouse for some friendly chatter and two pails of milk. The milk was fresh and good and priced just right for our family of six. I remember one wintery evening just after dinner. Mom made tea for herself and Dad and realized we were out of milk so Danny and I were sent on a mission to obtain more milk before their tea cooled. We raced down our long drive and arrived, panting, just before Mr. Aldred left the milkhouse for the evening. With a grin and chuckle he filled our pails and Danny and I hurried back across the highway, mindful of Mom and Dad waiting with their steaming tea. We reached the top of our drive and in perfect, synchronized, slow motion we slipped on the ice, landed on our butts and watched in horror as the milk drained away. I peered back over my shoulder at the darkened milkhouse of our jolly neighbour. He was no doubt settling in for a nice dinner with his family and we had no money left for more milk. Danny and I stood slowly and peered into our pails. We each had about two inches of milk left in the bottom - just enough for tea. With puffs of breath whitening the air before us, we trudged up the driveway and tiptoed into the kitchen where our parents patiently waited. We anticipated trouble and knew we were in for it. Our mumbled explanation was met with silence and Dad's stern face. Then in a hysterical voice, Mom said, "Well, no sense crying over spilt milk!" Even Dad laughed.
Seeing Mr. Aldred after thirty years was an incredible moment. Feeling warm and fuzzy, I restocked my books and settled back in my chair. A young girl hovered nearby and circled my table. When at last she made eye contact, I smiled and offered her a bookmark. She grinned and said, "I'm not going to buy your book but I LOVE your boots!" Well, that made me laugh. My boots are pretty cool though I have just about worn them out. An hour before the signing, I sat in my living room while my son crazy-glued the soles back on. After pulling his thumb free of the glue I stood and realized my boot was glued to the carpet. After giddy laughter, I yanked it free, polished them up, confident that no one would notice my boots amidst my shining books.
The rest of the evening sped by with much giggling and signing. Jen sat close and accepted the money and quietly made sure I spelled people's names correctly when I got caught up in conversation. Old faces and new became a blur. I shared a laugh with an old Junior Farmer buddy, hugged teamates from my old ball team and chatted with friends from high school. I laughed with a fellow dragon boater, accepted a tip from my dad and stepmother, smiled for the local paper and listened to a lovely Scottish girl who was sending my book to her mom in Scotland, who was recovering from a bout with cancer. I thanked Port Perry natives, who wanted to support a local author and finally I just about fell off my chair when my Grade Two teacher surprised me. She had read about me in the local paper. I hadn't seen her in forty years but the moment she walked up to the table with her husband, I knew her face. She told me I had always held a place in her heart and her husband revealed she had spoken of me often. Overwhelmed, I was brought to tears.
Needless to say, my debut was incredible. Thanks to Jen, I didn't lose my nerve.
Just after 10pm, we packed up. It was then I realized I hadn't eaten because of my nerves. We headed to our favourite restaurant and after two chocolate martinis and a plate of nachos, I almost slid to the floor under our table. In a state of euphoria and grateful bliss, I climbed into bed and fell asleep with a big smile on my face and copies of A Thistle in the Mist dancing in my head.
I would like to offer a big thanks to Dana Smith, the owner of Silverside and her fantastic staff for having me as a guest and giving me a place to debut my book! And thanks to the wonderful people who sought me out, reminisced with me and made me feel very special.
It was best night ever.