The Best Time I Got a Book for Christmas

by Lyette Mercier

My mother gave me the book on Christmas Eve, saying “It’s really not a big thing. Don’t get too excited.” Mom is excellent at undercutting her own gift giving. Regardless, I was delighted to unwrap the gift and find a battered hardcover copy of my favorite childhood novel, Anne of Green Gables.

Inside the front cover were two inscriptions. “For the library at the Ancestral in memory of the lovely weeks passed there, M.P.S., July 1908” and “Marion Beatrice H — — -, December 25, 1929.” I don’t know anything about the original owner, but Marion was our next door neighbor and a friend of my mother’s. She died when I was young, and my clearest memory of her is as our last stop on Halloween. Every year she bought a huge bowl of candy and gave fistfuls of it to my sister and me, her only trick-or-treaters. She had a sister, a nun in Hawaii, who brought us chocolate-covered macadamia nuts when she visited, but no other living family.

My parents bought Marion’s estate, including a barn visible from my backyard that was slowly being reclaimed by nature. Turned out Marion’s family never threw anything away; they put it in the barn. It took my father a year to clean it out. Most of its contents went into the trash, but my mother kept a few things — a rustic table and some old books for decoration. Which was how Anne ended up in my parents’ bedroom for 20 years, resting underneath an antique metronome.

Mom had noticed the title while dusting and wrapped it on impulse. The card tucked into the cover read, “I just found this book and thought of you and the pleasure this story brought to us as we watched the series together on PBS. Hope you enjoy it with [your daughter] as much as I did with you.” It was such a last minute gift that it wasn’t even wrapped in Christmas paper, but in the Sunday comics.

In the calm before the storm Christmas morning, I sipped coffee and googled “Anne of Green Gables 1908,” the year on the title page. My mother said it probably wasn’t worth anything, since it didn’t say “first edition.” I told her it was probably old enough to be worth something at least, and besides, I found online research soothing.

I went to an old Antiques Roadshow appraisal and was pleased to see that the picture on the page matched the book in my hands.

I read the transcript, feeling increasingly like I was having an out-of-body experience. The owner had bought the book to give to her daughter, who had loved the PBS series. This is the part of the appraisal that best encompassed my mental state:

GUEST: Oh, my gosh.
APPRAISER: So you’ve got a real treasure and a book that you love.
GUEST: Oh, my gosh.
APPRAISER: And I really am grateful you brought it here to the Roadshow.
GUEST: I had no idea.

The appraisal was for $12,000 to $18,000 dollars.

I ran upstairs, shook my husband awake, and flailed all over the bedroom for about ten minutes. There may have been some jumping on the bed. Then I calmly carried the computer into the kitchen, where my mom was drying the breakfast dishes.

“Hey, Mom, remember you told me the Anne of Green Gables wasn’t worth anything?” I dramatically turned the screen towards her.

She squinted. “Oh, twelve hundred dollars? That’s pretty good”

“Mom.” I tried not to giggle hysterically. “You missed a zero, Mom.”

“Oh. Huh.” She was silent for a minute, then hugged me and said, “Merry Christmas!”

“Don’t you want it back?” Since I’m pretty sure “you didn’t mean to give me a gift worth a compact car” was implied.

“No! It was a gift.” Pause. “Just don’t tell your siblings.”

Lyette Mercier is a writer in Boston. She’s hoping her siblings never Google her.