Last Spring I was given a letter written to Jonas Jonasson, author of The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared. The letter, written on lined notepaper in a tiny, clear scrawl was from a reader in Montreal, “Mary.”
Mary had written to thank the author for his “wonderful” book. She could identify with Allan, the story’s hero, as she was 99-years-old herself and also did not want to celebrate her 100th birthday. “I cannot jump through a window because I live in an apartment on the 4th floor (not in an old people’s home).”
My first thought was that the letter must have been fake—perhaps a co-worker was playing an elaborate prank. It was just too perfect! A 99-year-old woman writing a letter about escaping her 100th birthday to the author of the The 100-Year-Old Man? I read the letter to a few people and each person reacted the same: we were all touched by Mary’s humour and spirit. “Somehow I’ll manage to escape.”
So I called her. Mary and I spoke about the book about how she reads with the use of a magnifying glass (instead of large print editions or eReaders) and really hit it off. Later, I’d call to see if she would allow us to use her letter in an ad. (We did. And the book soon became a #1 Globe and Mail bestseller).
Eventually, Mary and I were speaking a few times a month. She’d call and ask about my family and wedding planning (offering to step in if my fiancée had second thoughts); I’d send her books and call to see what she thought of them and how she was (some books she liked, others she definitely did NOT). Eventually my mother, my girlfriend and several of my co-workers started reminding me, “have you called Mary lately?”
This week Mary is turning 100 and she won’t escape celebrating after all. We’ve invited her into the office to celebrate with a birthday party the whole office will attend. Mary doesn’t drink so we’ll have juice and we’ll spell out “100” in cupcakes to celebrate both her birthday and the book that brought us all together. In fact, Jonas Jonasson has replied to Mary’s letter and we’ve produced a special, one-of-a-kind hardcover edition with both the author’s and Mary’s letter printed inside just for her.
In the intervening months I’ve heard from some of her family what our friendship has meant to her but I don’t think Mary knows what it has meant to me–and everyone I speak to about her. It’d be easy to say that Mary became a fill-in grandmother for me but she’s also a fellow book lover and a friend–sometimes we don’t even talk about books. I love her spirit, her self-effacing humour, how indomitable she is and wish everyone had the chance to meet her.
For more pictures from Mary’s 100th birthday party, check out the slideshow below.