Safe Place

by Jennifer King from Edmonton, AB
Mar 31, 12

Amidst the worrisome challenges and constant uncertainties we are facing these days, I find more and more value in safe places; places you can duck into for a slight moment of escape; places where someone will call you by name.

Stuart, I wanted to tell you about my safe place. I think you might be familiar with it. 

Just a couple of years ago, Edmonton lost an important part of its culture. It was in April of 2008 that Laurie Greenwood shut the door to Volume II Books, one of Edmonton’s few independent bookstores. Situated in Edmonton’s High Street, it was home to young and old book lovers alike.

I grew up in the area and went to the store as a child as much as I could. To get to the bookstore from my house, I had to walk along a busy street. As soon as I was old enough to do the walk by myself, the bookstore was the first place I walked to. I was fascinated by the flower garden on the side and the mural painted on the outside wall. I didn’t know then what an important part the bookstore would play in my own story. When I got out of high school, I was a lost soul unsure of the next step. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to work at the bookstore. There is something satisfying about holding a book in your hand. Isabelle Allende’s [Ay–en-daze] House of Spirits was the first book I sold at Volume II Books. Eric Carle’s A Very Hungry Caterpillar was the last. That was 6 years later. 

Life doesn’t always walk with you, Stuart, and I had to face challenges far greater than any recession could offer. The diagnosis of a chronic illness that would weaken my body, but, with time, strengthen my spirit, came during my bookstore days. Although I worked off and on for the next few years, the bookstore played an important part in the acceptance of my reality. The cold drafts and stained green carpets, although unpleasant to some, became a familiarity I still long for nearly three years after the signs were taken down. I knew that when I was too scared to face the people around me, I had thousands of friends willing to share their story without my having to respond. These friends I met within the pages.

Perhaps one of the most precious mementos of the bookstore were the doors. All throughout the store, there were doors with autographs on them. It was tradition that all authors who passed through the bookstore would sign a door. Once a door became full, a new one was added. I believe you took part in this tradition. I vaguely recall seeing your autograph. 

Every person has a story to tell. It just so happens that the important chapters of my story happened while working at the bookstore. Laurie, the owner, had one last party for staff, book reps, and a few customers. At that party, there was a blank door and a fresh Sharpie. It was my turn to sign the door. A fitting way to mark my story.