This summer we are re-running my most-read blogs from the past year, in case you didn’t have an opportunity to read them the first time around. I’ve rewritten each one of these, so even if you’ve read them before, you may wish to read them again! Here is the fifth of those articles:
Books, to be sure, are full of words. But sometimes you come upon things that people leave in the books. Over the years of my book collecting—sometimes for research, sometime for reading pleasure— I have found pressed between the pages:
- Four leaf clovers. (Did they bring luck?)
- Flowers (As pale as old memories)
- A partially filled-in dance card, from 1923. (Why only partially?)
- Postage stamps that wouldn’t, today, take a letter fifty yards
- A receipt for the purchase of the book, when the book was new and cost two dollars and fifty cents (That was long ago!)
- A note explaining why the book was being sent as a gift (An apology? Thanks?) Author signatures, along with cryptic messages to persons unknown, for reasons at best vague. “To Charles who will know what to do with this book.”
- Birthday greetings, sometimes in child-like scrawls
- Thank you notes (Beautiful calligraphy, revealing no emotion)
- An invitation to a party (Did the recipient go?)
I always wonder about these left behind items. Were they discarded, forgotten, or in fact, meant to be saved as something meaningful? Never mind: Each thing suggests a story.
My favorite find was a letter dated 1898. I found it in a book (published much earlier) meant for young readers, and consisting of two stories. They were love stories, of a kind. The tales were each about young women, both of whom were choosing husbands. The first tale was about one who marries for love, and lives in harsh poverty. The second story was about a woman who marries for riches, and lives to be equally unhappy. The book—not uncommon for the day—was meant to teach lessons.
As for the letter in the book: (I paraphrase)
“My darling granddaughter Mary: You are only two and cannot read. I am eighty-nine, and may not live long enough to see you read. But I wanted to send you these stories because they will teach you a lesson I did not learn. I hope when you choose a husband you will heed the wisest story in this book. Your loving Grandmother, Dora.”
Ah, but which story did Grandma Dora not heed? Which story did she consider wisest? And what, in fact, did grandchild Mary do?
The answers were not provided.
Maybe I’ll find it in another book. Maybe I’ll write the book.