This article has been republished. Original date of publication: November 19th, 2019.
I come from a family of teachers. Both my grandmother and my mother taught at one-room schoolhouses on the Illinois prairie, named Hopewell School and Silver Lake School, although the nearest lake was miles away and bore a different name. That minor detail never seemed to bother any of our founding fathers, for in 1857 they named my small hometown of New Windsor after Windsor Castle, which was a mere 4,006 miles away.
My mother passed away last year at the age of 88. My 94-year-old father has since moved into an assisted living facility fifteen miles from the 1919 four-square house that in 1950 became their first and only home together. Our home and that of my grandparents were always filled with books. When my grandmother passed away, her collection was moved into our home, many being carried up three flights of stairs in cardboard boxes and placed in our spacious attic.
On one of my recent trips back to visit my father and our family, we four brothers and sisters decided the time had come to begin digging through my parents’ 69-year accumulation of dishes, scrapbooks, light fixtures, furniture, toys, blenders, crock-pots, table decorations, framed prints, collectible figurines, and books.
Hundreds of books.
The range of topics was mind-boggling, from histories and biographies to 1920s novels and elementary school textbooks. My grandmother used to assign each of her ten grandchildren summer reading lists, along with books from her collection. Occasionally she would slip a two-dollar bill between the final pages of a book, a reward for reaching the end.
Or for knowing to look for the money first.
I inherited her love for books, so our weekend project spawned countless memories for me. My task was to flip through each and every book, for, in addition to those two-dollar bills, my grandmother would slip family photographs and newspaper clippings into many of them. Afterwards I assigned each book a fresh box, labeled and destined for Goodwill, the local library, or my house.
One of my favorite books, a collection of well-known short stories and poems, made it into my box not because of the subject matter, but because of the many comments previous readers had written in the margins. My favorite was left unsigned:
“If you need to start a fire, use this. Its dry.”
I have no idea where I am going to put the boxes of books that UPS will start delivering on Thursday, but that never stopped either my mother or my grandmother from adding another to their collection.
Or for leaving the task of sorting them out to the next generation.
Until next week,
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx