Two women were approaching their car, parked under the pines at the Southeast branch library on Saturday. Returning from the library’s front door as I was stepping out of my own car, the older woman yelled across the parking lot, “Sorry, but the library is closed. There is a sign posted on the door that says something about ‘facilities’ problems. Maybe it’s plumbing or an electrical malfunction. Who knows?”
The crestfallen faces of the adult women, possibly mother and daughter, reflected my quick reply, “Well, that’s too bad.” I’d planned to search for a title not on my Kindle, maybe a Tracy Chevalier novel, something like Girl with a Pearl Earring I’d enjoyed years ago. Or, maybe Anne Lamott’s new book. These friends of the library were obviously book lovers too, looking to escape into another world during the long Memorial Day weekend ahead.
Dwelling on my own disappointment, I failed to remember that I may have had the perfect solution for them. In the back seat of my car were three signed copies of Mennonite Daughter with customized bookmarks. The story of a plain girl may have been just the ticket to whisk them into a peculiar culture in the 1950s. They might have loved escaping into the meadows of bucolic Lancaster County. I could have helped transform their dejection into elation. But I’ll never know now, will I?
It may be, however, that they are fiction buffs. Maybe they read only thrillers, historical firction, or romance novels. Maybe memoir is not their thing. But I’ll never know now, will I? I possibly missed a “Bingo!” moment for them–and me! 🙁
Moments after I pressed the ignition in my car to head home, I replayed the incident in my head. And then I was struck with a line from Robert Frost, who has eloquently expressed how I felt. The poet understood my precise emotion when he penned the line in The Death of the Hired Man, “I know just how it feels /To think of the right thing to say too late.”
The obvious question because we are curious, “Have you ever thought of the right thing to say (or do) too late?
What golden opportunity have you missed?
Good morning, Marian! I’m sure everyone has experienced that. I knew I had come across a word for it, so I Googled it, and I’m not sure if this is the word I was thinking of, but I came up with this word in German and phrase in French–both meaning “staircase joke,” or something you think of after you’ve already gone up the stairs. https://www.dw.com/en/word-of-the-week-treppenwitz/a-17986514
I hope the library closure wasn’t for too long.
It’s good to have a scholar in the group. Thank you, Merril!
I did click on the link and found this: “No matter the language, it seems we all experience the same phenomenon. So it’s surprising that the English language has yet to come up with its own snappy word. But it does have two expressions that perfectly describe our lack of a Treppenwitz: tongue-tied and brain fart.” I think I experienced the latter.
Since then, I’ve been back to the library, so I think the closure was just temporary.
Oh, I love that word “Treppenwitz”. Must admit I hadn’t heard it before, even though I’m a German scholar!
Love this idea – staircase joke. The image will stick with me.
I think it’s perfect too. Thanks, Arlene!
It’s a great phrase. 😀
I used to work with an attorney who always seemed to say things at the right time. She had a quick wit that I admired. As someone who prefers to listen more than speak, I’m usually too late.
English teachers are sometimes known for their wit. One of my colleagues was clever and quick. Too bad he was sometimes sarcastic.
Thanks, Jill! 🙂
I have missed many opportunities, Marian. So I feel your pain!!! I pray that someone will get those copies of your book soon and you’ll know exactly what to say!
Thanks for sending good thoughts, as always, L. Marie!
Yes, the perfect comment at the appropriate time – my experience is that it’s pretty elusive! Occasionally, I surprise myself but right now I can’t think of an example. Next time, you’ll be better prepared Marian 😀
“Pretty elusive” is a sentiment many are feeling, reading this post. I’m glad you can easily relate, Susan! 🙂
This was a fun post, Marian. I loved the picture, and the experience is universal. Probably even the people we think of as quick-witted can tell stories of their own “staircase jokes.” I want to remember that phrase. I’m sure it will come in handy soon!
I’m glad this post clicked with your experience. Thanks, Shirley! :=)
I’m sure I’ve not said the right thing in the moment and I’m sure I’ve thought of the right thing to say later, but I cannot think of an example. Perhaps I’ve buried the conversations in my subconscious which is a messy place. Still a good question.
Messy place or not, your blog readers get a big kick out of the ruminations in your subconscious. With or without an example, I’m glad you can relate, Ally!
Darn! Well, at least you had books in your car! I taught a presentation on “writing and publishing” two weeks ago at an outdoor pavilion. Ten wonderful participants. My new book was in my book bag that I brought with me. Did I offer it for sale at the end of my presentation? NO! I got in my car 90 minutes later and knocked on my head. TOO late of course.
You have to hear me laughing, Pam. When I got back home, I told my husband, “How could I be so dumb!” Then seconds later, “Well, this will turn into a blog post.” Right-thing-too-late is a universal experience.
We have a lot on our minds, we writers do. Besides, the outdoors can be intoxicating – ha! Anyway, your participants will probably buy your book(s) online.
Most importantly, our goof-ups were not fatal. Thanks for sharing, 🙂
Actually, thanks for the idea (duh, I didn’t think of it…). I’ll e-mail the participants a link to my books. :-0 🙂 No fatal goof-ups, and to be honest, I would have been too shy to stop the woman at the library. <3
“Treppenwitz: tongue-tied and brain fart.” — Who knew?!!!
Well, there’s a word for everything. Even if it’s German.
I wonder if this sketch fits any of your Sean McPherson characters?!? 🙂
I love the picture of you hitting yourself in the head. Been there, done that, too many times. The sea of forgetfulness, that’s me sometimes!
I’m glad you can relate. It’s a totally human experience indeed. Thanks, Linda Lee!
This happens to me all the time. I am one of those people who has to process life – slowly – let it percolate for a while. My husband, by contrast, has a hair trigger. He reacts instantly to everything thrown at him. I used to envy him, but now I realize that there is a need for both kinds of people in the world: the ones who leap up and deal with the crisis and have those words on the tips of their tongues, AND the one who process slowly and are in there for the duration and the careful thinking through.
I believe it’s just how we process things, as you aptly say. My husband too can think of crazy comebacks at the spur of the moment. “They just pop into my head!” he says. Me, it takes a while.
As you say, the world needs both kinds! 🙂
Sometimes I will say what is the right-for-me response. Doesn’t mean it is always appropriate. Other times I just nod and go on. Keep ’em guessing, I declare!
You certainly have a sane way of looking at this all-too-human dilemma. Thanks for your input here, Ginger!
That must have been annoying and frustrating, driving to the library and finding it closed. As for thinking about the right thing to say too late, it happens all the time, so I can definitely relate to that feeling.
It occurs to me that if those ladies are regular visitors to the library (perhaps same time next week?), you could offer your memoirs to them next time you see them! Good luck!
Good idea, Fatima. A copy of my book is also in the library, but they wouldn’t know what to ask for. Besides, I live in a large metro area with probably 20 branch libraries.
As I said to another reader, “The snafu was not fatal.” Just a lesson to learn from.
Thanks for commiserating! 🙂
Two new words and two expressions thats what I love about blogging that I learn something daily..as for my own staircase moment I am sure I have had many none of which I can recall at this time…As always interesting comments, Marian …
Like me, you enjoy the fun interchange between bloggers and commenters on your own website. I always learn something new from you.
And I like how many people learned about others’ “staircase” moments today. Thanks, Carol!
This happens often to all of us. I love the word Treppenwitz! I tend to talk about my books to anyone within hearing distance, though. I have, more than once, sold a book to the person sitting beside me on an airplane. Hubby says they are a captive audience!
You are terrific at promoting your books and take advantage of every opportunity. Brava to you, Darlene! 🙂
We all have missed opportunities, some with huge consequences. You can be thankful, Marian that this was not one of those! But I get your frustration! Maybe these women will see your book advertised somewhere and realize that the author is the woman they met at the parking lot of the library. Then they will be so excited they will buy your book!!
Thanks for planting the idea of a positive outcome, Elfrieda. Seeing the glass half full is a productive way to live.
The incident, which seemed so disappointing at the time, has certainly faded in importance. Actually, the consequences were not dire. When I contemplated telling this story, I suspected that many of my readers could relate. It turns out I was right. Thanks again for sharing your perspective, my friend. 🙂
For me, it’s better to have the right thing to say too late than the wrong thing to say on time!
Perfectly put, Liz. That way you never have to regret or apologize.
Thanks for stopping by with your wise words! 🙂
I couldn’t think of the right thing to say. Am I too late??
On the serious side, at our biweekly Bible study this morning, we were looking at the parable of the unforgiving servant and reminded that forgiving others is so important to our mental and emotional well being. Your post is on the humorous side, but our retired pastor shared how he had been disparaged by a friend long ago; the friend moved away and died young, and this pastor never had a chance to tell the friend that he had forgiven him; we were reminded of the more serious side of saying the right thing–before it is too late. Thanks for this train of thought!
I like this train of thought, Melodie, and you are the first to mention it. It reminds me also to tell our family members we love them before it is too late. It’s good to practice saying “I love you” every single day, before we leave the house or last thing at night.
Yes, I agree: We don’t want to regret not saying words of forgiveness (as you point out) or of love. 🙂
I love this piece because I often think of the best lines when it’s too late!
A common thread here, Katherine. You’re in good company.
By the way, congratulations on a recent writing award–you rock! 🙂
I’m pretty good about saying the right thing, but I do have a few instances in my mind of incidents where I wish I could go back and handle a specific situation differently. I’m much more likely to be outspoken now when I was far too shy back in the day.
You have a good, strong voice now, Pete. It’s hard to imagine you being shy, but you say it’s was far back in the day. Thanks for tuning in here! 🙂
Indeed… Thanks for the reminder that words have power and our job is to use them well! <3
You’re welcome, Bette. Your remark reminds me of this proverb: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” 🙂
Beautiful, dear Marian, that you would want to give them your book (I somehow imagine they would have loved it) and that you came up with a perfect line from Robert Frost. Next time you’ll think of this option first. It’s wonderful to gift a stranger with a unique and beautiful book. You’ll get more chances. (Just like I got a second chance with the Tree Swallows and the Mama is now incubating 3 eggs at least and possibly 4.)
When a relative “messed up,” I reminded him of the God of Second Chances – and third, and perhaps fourth too.
It’s heartening to think how our minds work: First, we are distraught as you felt with the loss of the tree swallows’ eggs and me with overlooking a golden opportunity. Then we process the forgetfulness/loss/consequences over time and reach acceptance. Even hope, as you are experiencing now.
Thank you so much, and enjoy your weekend, reveling in nature. 😀
Having the library closed is a nightmare to me . At the start of the first lockdown libraries were closed for obvious reasons and I started to search my own . Obviously I don’t own a library do you think I live in a mansion ? No , but my on humble version of one , and I came up with a pile of unread books , it was so much fun . As restrictions eased I was able to drive short distances and found a telephone ☎️ box in the next village stuffed with books I hadn’t read . Now the library is open ( we have to arrange a slot ) but all is well with the world …books it my fingertips again .
As for missed opportunities, all the time , because I don’t think quick enough in words I’d much rather write them down . So I can’t begin to tell you of the times I’ve thought ‘Why didn’t I say that , this or the other ‘ but too late missed it Oooops! too late . Leave you books with a note ‘read me’ in a cafe , on a bench , on public transport etc. Just a thought .
Cherry, I’m glad all is well with the world as you had books hidden in plan sight in your OWN HOME during the lockdown. Ha! Have you heard of the poet who said, “Oh, nothing furnishes a room like books!” Apparently your rooms are well furnished!
I love the idea of a telephone box stuffed with books, so welcome in this hurried world. Thanks for your suggestion about spreading joy with my book – great idea! Huge thanks! 🙂
All the time. There are too many occasions to count where I went through an episode or experience, only to afterwards think “I should have said this” or “I should have said that.” Especially after confrontations or arguments. When I replay everything in my head afterwards, it’s easy to come up with “should haves.” I guess all authors should carry a few books with them in the car, just in case! 🙂
That’s the thing: I DID have books in the back-seat of the car, but just forgot to offer them. Our “brain farts” as it were, are simply evidence of having an author’s busy brain–the bane and blessing of having too much on our minds. I know you can relate, Liesbet!
Thing is: now you’ll remember next time when something similar happens, or the thought strikes you to present your books to someone. 🙂 And, we can learn from your “brain farts” and keep (signed) books in the car. This was easy for me in our van, as that’s where we lived. I should put a couple of my books in the car of my MIL, which we now use.
Ha Ha – Yes!
HI Marian, I’m constantly coming up with the right thing to say, too late. That would have been a good opportunity for you to share your memoir, but now that you realize you missed it, I bet it will come up again. And how handy that you have copies in your car! I hope your library has reopened. It’s been a rough year for libraries.
Maybe because I live in a warmer climate, we had limited opening after the lockdown. At first, all were subject to temperature checks and of course had to wear masks, a policy still in force. Also, for many months, readers could enjoy curb delivery of books on hold, which was a creative way to deliver books – library to car, the transaction door-to-door facilitated with a cellphone call.
Yes, I agree: This has been a rough year for libraries I hope you are getting back to a more open policy soon. Thanks, Barbara! 🙂
Hi Marian – yes the curbside pick-up has been very popular at our library too. We have been open to the public since last summer, in the beginning for just limited browsing, no sitting and no use of public computers. Then we transitioned to one seat per table and 1 hour on the public computers. We even used to let patrons “check out” laptops to use in the parking lot with our Wifi! Now we are open for all things, except room rentals. And our programs are still all virtual. So pretty normal and masks are not required for people who have been vaccinated.
You have exceptional service. And I believe you have done a one-upper with this perk: “letting patrons ‘check out’ laptops to use in the parking lot with our Wifi.” WOW!
Haha – only a few people tried it, but it was a good option at the time. Looking back, everyone was just trying to find ways to make things work. I’m glad we have made so much progress with vaccines.
Many times. 🙂 And I also loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring, especially the movie with Scarlett Johannsen. 🙂 xx
Like you, we saw the movie years ago. It felt like being back in the times–within Vermeer’s painting really. Anyway, that’s how I remembered it. Good to hear from you, Debby!
Sorry I am so late getting to your blog. It has been a very busy time. However, I wanted to respond because there are some special moments that I have missed by not doing what my heart was leading me to do. I listened to others, instead of stepping out. Also, Robert Frost is one of my most favourite poets. His poetry has walked with me since I changed schools to integrate a school in my hometown. One of his poems follow me daily and that is The Road Not Taken. I have learned and I have to say I am still learning to take risks and to reach out to people regardless.
I enjoyed reading this personal experience very much because I got to know you a little better.
I can hear your voice as I read this because I am getting to know you better via ZOOM and enjoyed your being showcased a few days ago.
That little girl from Georgia must marvel sometimes at the “road you’ve taken,” and the unlikely places the Lord has led you. As a Pennsylvania Mennonite girl, I too could not have dreamed of what God had in store for me way back then. Thinking of Proverbs 3:6 right now: “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Thanks for replying here. I’m just seeing this on Sunday afternoon. ((( )))
There has been many a time I’ve thought of what I could have said…
Marian, I’m sure we’ve all had those moments. In times such as this when someone has passed me by or walked on, I am always glad for those opportunities when I can run behind them for a do-over. In regards to a book situation, I ALWAYS keep a box of paperbacks on the floor of the backseat of my car for moments like these. Although, I’ve never had it as easy as meeting someone who was looking to visit a closed library. That’s the most perfect time to introduce your book.
Marian, don’t beat yourself up about it. The good thing about life is that opportunities to gift people with good books to read come around almost every day.
Thanks for sharing!
What a pleasure to see you here, Nonnie. Your comment landed in my SPAM folder, and I’m just seeing it now
I’ve stopped beating myself up about the experience. After all, I got a blog post out of it. Plus, a local author wants to include the story in an anthology he’s putting together.
You are a busy women. Thanks for taking the time to reply here. 🙂