I woke up to the crazy ringtone I had thought was so funny yesterday afternoon. Turns out at 3:00 AM, it’s the most annoying ringtone in the world. I blindly reached for the phone and wondered how my “Do Not Disturb” had allowed anyone to disturb my sleep. I mean, going to bed at midnight and waking up at 3:00, wasn’t my idea of fun.
The caller ID showed my mom’s picture. I sat up in the bed and forced myself to wake up. “Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I stole something,” my mom wailed into the phone. “I can’t believe I didn’t give it back. You’ve got to help me, Dee.”
If my mom didn’t sound so distraught, I would have laughed. My mom wouldn’t take a bottle of travel size shampoo from a hotel room unless she had used it. There was no way she had stolen anything.
I listened to her sobbing softly on the other end of the line. “Mom, take a breath, and tell me what happened,” I said calmly. “It couldn’t be that bad.”
“Yes, yes it is,” she said with a sob. “I can’t believe I still have it.”
“I borrowed a book from the library, and it’s so late. I know they think I did it on purpose, but I didn’t.”
“Well, why don’t you just return it and pay the fine? When was it due?
I heard the rattle of paper, probably the receipt.
“It was due March 3rd.”
“That’s not so bad, just a couple of weeks.”
“I said March 3rd 1997.”
I was silent. Was my mom trying to tell me she was upset about not returning a book that was over 24 years past due?
“Look, Mom. I don’t think you have to worry about it,” I finally said. “I’m sure the library wrote that book off a long time ago. They probably replaced it too.”
“Dee, I’ve got to return it and pay the fine.”
“So, you’re going to mail it?”
My mom sniffed. “Dee, could you return it for me?”
I muted the phone and heavy sighed. I unmuted the phone. “Sure, send it to me then.”
“Couldn’t you come get it and take it back?”
Clearly my mom didn’t understand what she was asking. “Mom, wouldn’t it be faster to mail it? Why do I need to drive to Oklahoma City just to pick up a past due book and bring it back to Michigan?”
I needed my sleep, and my mom wasn’t going to let me get any. “Fine,” I said. “When should I come?”
“That’s really short notice. I have to let my boss know.”
“Tell them it’s a family emergency.”
I REALLY wanted to point out that an overdue library book would never fly as an emergency unless it was used as a murder weapon or something. But I didn’t say that. Not to Mom.
“If you fly out, you can be back the next day and get the book to the library for me.”
“Mom…” This was getting expensive. More expensive than the fine, which was probably nonexistent after 24 years.
“I’ll pay for your tickets. I’ve got points. It’ll be worth it to return that book.”
“Okay,” I replied. I felt crazy for going along with this, but I AM a little crazy at 3:00 AM.
Mom was nice enough to get me a late morning flight. She even took me out to lunch, at the airport, of course, because she didn’t want me to miss my return flight that was in a few hours.
Before she saw me off, she gave me a kiss and a hug. “Do you think you’ll be able to get this to the library tonight?” She asked.
She looked so worried, I forced myself not to laugh. “Sure, I’ll have plenty of time. The library closes at 8:30.”
She flashed me a relieved smile. “Good. Thanks, Sweetie. Let me know how much I owe you.”
I nodded, gave her another hug and headed for my gate carrying the craziest reason to book a roundtrip flight ever.
I made it to the library a few minutes before closing. The library clerk looked up and smiled. I walked up to the desk and handed her the book.
“It’s overdue,” I said before she could ask if I was checking it out. “Really overdue.”
The clerk didn’t bat an eye. She opened it looking for the bar code strip, and when she couldn’t find one, she typed in some information. I heard a beep from her computer.
“Let me print out a bar code strip for this.”
She said as she typed in the number once again and printed out a sticker. Then she placed the book with the others that were ready to go back on the shelves.
“Thank you for your patronage. Have a wonderful evening,” she said giving me a warm smile.
“Thanks,” I replied awkwardly. I turned away, ready to walk away. Then I turned back. “Um, excuse me.”
“Yes? Can I help you find a book?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I just wanted to know how much I owe?”
“Oh, you don’t owe anything.”
I stared at her a minute, waiting for the punch line. “So, I bring a book back that’s over 20 years overdue and you just put it back on the shelf, no fine, no questions?”
She nodded. “That’s right. We stopped collecting fines a couple years ago.”
“But it’s 24 years overdue.”
“Yes, I know. That’s one of the oldest.”
“One of the oldest?”
“Yes, grandkids and great-grands are always bringing back library books they find when they’re cleaning out the family home. Plus, I think we’re getting more overdue books back now that there are no fines. Actually, we just got a book last month that was over 48 years overdue.”
I shook my head, “So I didn’t need to take a flight to Oklahoma City, today to bring back this book, huh?”
The clerk laughed. Of course she thought I was kidding. Boy, did I wish it was a joke.
“No, that would be crazy,” she replied between chuckles.
Okay, so crazy definitely was the right term for my mom and me. But like I said, I tend to agree to crazy stuff at 3:00 AM.