It comforted me to kiss my father goodbye yesterday despite the fact that he passed away 20 years ago. The opportunity presented itself and I took full advantage of the moment. After years of procrastination, Oscar and I embarked on a time-travel adventure that took us close to family, friends and experiences long gone.
As book lovers with 12 overstuffed bookcases crowding our home, we decided to reorganize and reduce our volumes, never dreaming of the amazing consequences. We sat together in two chairs before the first bookcase, examined each book one at a time and placed each in the pile to keep, give to the kids, donate to the library or give to the antique book dealer to assess.
One set of eight books, “Great Men and Famous Women,” was printed in 1894. I’d never looked at the date before, even though we’ve had the set for decades. Many of the books have been on our I’m-gonna-read-this list for years. We just never had or made the time. And since we are at the stage where time is of the essence, we made some necessary decisions.
But before relegating each volume to its designated pile, we flipped through the pages to make sure nothing was stuck inside. And that’s when I had the chance to kiss my dad. As a book lover, he too had collected volumes, many of which became mine when he passed away. It was his mantra that, “You should never mark in a book because books belong to the world, not to people.” And so when he read a volume he cherished, he would take an index card and cover it with notations and page numbers for his own future reference.
But there’s more to the story.
My Dad was challenged by dysgraphia, which meant his handwriting was almost undecipherable. My heart skipped a beat when I found his notes, and even if I decided to donate the book, I kept the index card, kissing each one as I came across them and putting them in my scrapbook. There was a special comfort and satisfaction in seeing his handwriting once again. I would recognize it anywhere. It felt as if he were standing beside me looking over my shoulder.
The adventure continued as Oscar and I discovered precious and revered books from our childhood (his Jack London, my Grimm’s and Anderson fairy tales), and volumes we both had struggled through in college. And things got a bit hysterical when we came across the book on sex we had purchased when we first got married. Yes, we read it 51 years ago, and now we decided that it was time to pass it on.
Friends had given us books autographed by the authors and birthday selections inscribed with wonderful personal messages. Each had a story that went with it, and it was an exciting visit with each. But paring down was our goal. It took us several hours to review the first 6-foot bookcase, but the trip was worth it.
It was almost as if I could see Dad smiling. Yes, I remembered. Books do belong to the world, and we were sharing.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”