You, of course, Dear One,
And books made of paper.
I know this for certain as I pack my bookcases, preparing to move. When I open my dog-eared copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I discover a pencil-scrawled note in my own hand.
…overheard in Target at the checkout line by a little girl wearing a bee yellow soccer t-shirt.
“Can I start reading my new book in the car, Mom?”
“ No, Chelsea. No. Don’t ask me again.”
I write all kinds of things in books. Notes to myself. Things to track down. Finding this jot immediately takes me back to that night in Target and how I almost touched Chelsea’s shoulder and told her she could drive home with me. Realizing that would be an infintely eerie and highly misunderstood act, I inscribed her name instead and recorded these words in a book I hadn’t even paid for yet to remind me to speak wisely to my own daughter.
I wonder someday, when all the books are digital, where I’ll keep these memorandums.
It’s frontismatter – will that word become extinct? – and marginalia words recorded in another’s hand that I’ll miss even more when paper books have dwindled to near extinction.
As I pack another shelf, I discover my mother’s signature, swirled in black fountain pen, on the browned and brittle first page of a 1965 Vintage edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea. So many years after the lend I feel guilty that I’ve not returned it, but in exact opposition to the slow way I lost track of having her book, I immediately remember her words the day she pressed it into my hands.
“This is a lovely book for a woman in the middle of family life. I think you might enjoy it. I know I did.”
I read the book as grown-up daughter, not the seven-year-old I was when my mother read it first, and I wonder if this passage also began a slow shift in the river of her life the way it opened in me the possibility of finding rhythm, peace, and solitude in nature.
“…Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state of William James describes so well in the German word, “‘Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit. She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.”
The wonderful thing about my mother is the graceful way she can guide without seeming to do so. So subtle was her influence that even though I own several editions of Gift From the Sea, and I’ve given it frequently as a present, it wasn’t until I found my mother’s copy, with her tidy penmanship on the blank first page, that I remembered who first introduced me to its beauty and its wisdom. I also realize if I alone have kept it all these years, my sisters haven’t had a chance to read their mother’s treasure. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
Packing and moving can make a person feel nostalgic, but this longing for the permanence of pen and ink goes deeper than my desire to touch the same page as one I love.
Where will I find the croissant crumbs from that little boulangerie in Paris when I reread Baudelaire?
Where will I tuck the card or letter from my book’s giver and how will he inscribe upon the front, “Love, Dad.”
When I really really miss you, where will I find your chocolate fingerprints, or the sand leftover from your own sojourn one summer by the sea?
I suppose these things will remain alone in my memory’s cache or I’ll forget and never miss what I don’t recall.
Oh I suppose I could always write about them, but how would I find the time and words?
Imagine this in pen and ink,