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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

A friend met me at the paper to buy one of my books as a gift for his mother. Her name is Mary. On an inside page, I wrote: "To Mary, Happy Birthday. You have a wonderful family who will always be close to our hearts. Best Wishes, Herb."

I handed Don the book with the personal inscription. I like Don's family. We have history. I don't know Mary well, but I suspect she may be at the heart of what is good there.

He opened the book. Read the inscription. Bowed his head.

It's OK to be moved. I do that to people. As a writer who chooses his words carefully, that is my gift.

He started to speak but stopped. He was moved. Overcome with emotion. Gather yourself, friend. I'm in no hurry.

Finally, he spoke. His words were soft, halting, as if it were painful for him to form the thoughts.

"Herb, I like what you wrote, but it's not her birthday," he said. "This book is for Mother's Day."

Mother's Day. I thought you said it was her birthday. It's going to be her birthday sometime. They come once a year, whether you like it or not.

"I was planning to give it to her as a Mother's Day present," he said softly.

Not anymore. You have a birthday present; now think about a Mother's Day gift. Have you considered flowers or a non-stick frying pan?

I've made mistakes inscribing books before. Sometimes I've missed an "at," "a," "the" or dropped a letter in a name and have had to wedge it in. These are fixable mistakes. Minor crossouts can be stylish and have a winsome quality about them.

"He's human. Who would have ever known. Flawed, this book is almost a collector's item."

Minor crossouts are one thing but a big fat "Happy Birthday," written with a Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Marker does not lend itself to easy correction. I thought about ripping the page out altogether, but that's messy and then you open the book and you are greeted not by the title page but by the table of contents. That seems rude, like trying to go too fast on a first date.

I looked at the book and I looked at Don. I had one option. I reached into the box, grabbed another book and started fresh. This time I wrote, "Happy Mother's Day."

Don smiled and the power of speech returned as he thanked me both clearly and confidently.

In the meantime, I have a book in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. The pool of potential buyers for this book is not large. It has to be a Mary, she has to be celebrating a birthday and Mary has to have a wonderful family.

I'm giving it away. If there is a Mary with the attributes listed in the previous paragraph, and a free copy of "That Was Easy," interests you, please write me a letter or email in fewer than 250 words about Mary and the book could be yours.

Happy Mother's Day Mom, Sue and Mary. Happy birthday, too.