Meeting Madis

Be gracious if you encounter an Estonian children’s bookseller.

Monday morning, just before I left for the office, came a knock on my front door. I answered and met Madis, a college student from Estonia who’s spending the summer in Chico. Dressed neatly in a light-pink shirt, shorts and a ball cap, Madis was articulate and polite while explaining where he is from and why he has an accent. But I was in a rush to get out the door with my husband and 20-month-old son, so after a minute or two into his wind-up to a pitch, I asked him, “What can I do for you?”

That’s when Madis told me what he was selling: children’s books. He knew I had a child, so I know one of my neighbors sold me out. We get a lot of door-to-door salespeople in my neighborhood for some reason, probably because my street is on a fairly busy part of the bike path. I’m a tough sell, though. I’ve only ever bought Girl Scout cookies.

Then I met Madis. I told him I was far too busy to sit down and look at the books at the moment, but that I would be free early in the evening.

As I finished getting ready for work, I couldn’t help feeling a bit worried about Madis, who is just a week into his summer stay in a strange city 5,300 miles from home. On our way into work, my husband and I drove around the neighborhood to track him down. We found him one street over, looking at a clipboard. We pulled over and asked him if he was OK, and I gave him my business card and said to call if he had trouble navigating the area. He very nicely told me I sounded like his mother.

That’s when I realized I sounded just like my mother. While I was growing up, my mom would help makes ends meet by renting a room to college students who were interning at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in my hometown of Livermore. Money was tight when my parents split up, but my mom was determined to keep us in our home. She, my brother and I lived in a big five-bedroom house with a lot of space to spare, so it was easy renting a room or two every summer to help us get by.

Most of the interns were physicists, working on master’s degrees, sometimes a doctorate. A few were from other countries—Simon from Israel and Pascal from Belgium, for example. My mom always ended up being a mother figure to our guests, worrying about them at times. Almost every one of them became like family for the few months we shared a roof.

Madis did come back Monday evening. I’m a reporter, so I pried into his stay. Madis said he was enjoying Chico and meeting a lot of nice people. He’s here with two other Estonian college students, who are saving money for school. I restrained myself from offering him food, but I did buy my kid a set of books. If Madis comes knocking on your door, be nice, would you?