My Grandfather’s Books
The whole “Nature vs. Nurture” war has been raging for years and personally, I think there is a strong case for the effects both elements have on a person. But no matter how you spin it, I’m pretty sure my love for the written word comes at me from both sides. It’s in my blood, and deeply woven into my web of experience as well. And now I work for an author. Another stretch of my life path, with books for pavers.
I lost my grandfather eleven years ago next week. He was elderly and had severe respiratory problems caused by years of smoking back in the days before people knew that smoking wasn’t safe. They say that time heals all wounds, but I’d have to disagree on this point. I think I miss my grandfather more as the years go on and I grow older and become more and more aware of the unique person he was. I wish I could sit down and ask him a whole slew of questions that it never occurred to me to ask. I wish I could hear his reaction to the adventures I’m having as an adult and to the ever increasing discoveries of modern technology and medicine. I wish he could meet my husband. He would love my husband.
My grandfather taught me lots of things as a kid. Like how to spell “squirrel.” And how to say “Lemon Yellow Lollypops” when I was having trouble differentiating between the “L” and “Y” sounds. And once, in the days before Google & the Internet, we sat down with a pencil and a sheet of lined notebook paper and from memory wrote down all 50 states of the United States and then put them in alphabetical order. He asked me questions and listened when I answered, no matter how silly or long-winded my answer might of been. And in between all that, he read books. Lots of them. He was ever in “his chair” with a book in hand and a crossword-puzzle as a bookmark. My mother read to me in the womb….and every night of my childhood thereafter until I was able to take over and read to myself. And even then, she continued to read to me when my eyes were too droopy with sleep to process the words, but the story too enticing to abandon.
My uncle is an author and an avid reader (as well as a gifted fiddle player). In fact, he’s many times earned his paycheck writing reviews of other people’s books for various newspapers and magazines…the perfect combo for an author/reader. This past weekend, when I was visiting my parents for Mother’s Day, he decided it was time to comb through my grandfather’s vast library. He kept a large stack of books, and the rest came to me to keep or sell to the local used bookstore. Some of the sorting process was easy…pulling out classic works that weren’t yet a part of my personal collection that I’ve always wanted to read. The yellowed copy of “Nicholas Nickleby” for instance, that I used to beg my grandfather to read to me; undaunted at age five by it’s 939 pages. Tucked helpfully inside is an equally yellowed index card listing a “Who’s who” of the story’s characters in my Grandfather’s eloquent script. But then it became more difficult. All the volumes of PD James that I have no desire to read, but that I can’t seem to part with either. Some of my earliest memories are of carefully running my fingers over all the book bindings on my grandparent’s bookshelf, thrilled at the thought of the mysteries and glorious tales those volumes might contain. When I imagine their house, Michner’s “Texas” is an integral part of the decor.
So while I may never crack open any of them, the works of John leCarre will probably take up residence next to whatever popular fiction my book-club is currently reading, at least for a while. These books to me are happy ghosts of years past; comfort items that remind me of when life was simple and the highlight of my week was story-time at the Burleson Library. As I write this, I glance up from my screen and scan the bindings of the hundreds of books that sit displayed on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves Keith and I had custom-built into our front room last Spring. My grandfather would have loved those bookshelves.
“I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.”
-Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954)