Saturday, December 31, 2011

For old times' sake

This year, like all the years before it, has come and gone and held everything in it. Here are pictures of some of what it held for me.

2011 in Greenville, South Carolina started with a beautiful snow. Here's the little farmhouse we lived in and a view of the back yard.

I'm glad we had the snow and wonder if somehow I knew it would be our last winter in that house, because I remember not wanting to come in from the cold with everything so clean and quiet under the ice.

Winter was filled with other things too. Short visits home to Tennessee. Long hours on the road to Columbia and back to catalog old things at the library. Quiet afternoons analyzing books for the last class of my graduate school career.

One day passed after another that way till the air slowly started to feel warm again. Spring held lots of walks at the ball field behind our house. And it held Easter. And that midnight drive to St. Simons Island with Mom to make sure Grandaddy was gonna be alright. And a call from one of Jonathan's friends about a possible job opportunity near Atlanta. And a call from Mom. She was crying. A great family difficulty, caused by injustice, had finally been partially resolved, but so much damage had already been done, the healing would be long and painful.

At the end of May, I quietly graduated without going to the ceremony. We drove to Atlanta for an interview. In a blink (it seems now), Jonathan got the job and we were telling our families and looking for a place to live five hours away from them. Never complaining, our little farmhouse with the books in the hallway and the birdcage in the bedroom faded and an empty house stood waiting for us on a street we didn't know.

As we packed boxes and cleaned out dusty corners, I got a call from family. My sister was being tested for breast cancer. I wasn't worried. I guessed all would be well. Of course it would. But the day before we were to meet my other sister and my nephew for a concert, there was another call. Wendy had tested positive. She'd have to have surgery and aggressive treatments.

Next thing I knew, I was falling asleep in a familiar bed in an unfamiliar house. I cried thinking of the old one, standing in that big field all cold and empty and sad. Jonathan started his job soon after we arrived. I immediately headed off to a conference and started applying for teaching positions. We all held our breath as my sister began treatments. I received multiple rejections. Then a call came midsummer about Jonathan's grandpa. He was dying. We saw him one last time and sat on his front porch in the rocking chairs he and Grandma used to sit in to watch the birds.

A week after Grandpa's funeral, I got a job. He'd have been so proud. I was pretty damned proud myself. Finally--a teacher.

And slowly, as we went from grief to grief and happiness to happiness, we began to settle into our new situation. Because what else can you do but get new tags for the car and new licenses and new doctors and dentists and veterinarians and grocery stores and friends and neighbors and memories? We'd often walk the half mile to our downtown for Steverino's pizza and fried pickles, and we'd comment on the old houses along the way. We'd say how we were glad not to be living in the city and glad to have a quiet neighborhood of our own. And I started to find things about this place I could maybe love...the screened in porch when the wind blows warm, the pecan trees and the creatures living in and under them, the sound of the train in the middle of the night, the wooded walk in the park nearby.

My bestie came to visit. My mom and dad came to visit. I had my first mammogram. I started my new job. Jonathan's baby brother announced he and his wife would be having a baby of their own.

Then suddenly it was September and autumn had started to show. We went to our first fall festival downtown. The leaves in our yard started to change. We found a trail that led to some countryside. We took a trip to the zoo.

Halloween and Thanksgiving were spent in Tennessee. Wendy was pulling through.

By Christmas, I'd finished up my first two fall terms of teaching and Jonathan had marked six months working at his new job. He likes his new position, and though teaching has been difficult in many ways, I can't deny it comes naturally. Jonathan gave me an early Christmas present...a fancy camera for next year's travels. That's our first self-portrait below. Downtown was festively decorated for the holidays. Christmas Eve Eve was spent with the bestie, Christmas with the family.

And all the while, the little things of life were happening. New friendships were being built and old ones nurtured when time and place and circumstance would allow. Good food was cooked often and thoroughly enjoyed. Home life, though in a different state in a different town, continued to be home life as we had known it.

And so, a new year. It's just as well really. This one has started to weigh on me. I know tomorrow is just another day. I do know that. But why not leave it behind now? Why not start fresh? I've survived it--we've survived it--and that's saying something. Good for us! And, though this particular twelve-month period has left a feeling of uncertainty of whether I should look for adventure or hide from danger, perhaps the lesson is that I should do a bit of both. For now, for today, I wait for spring. For travel and accomplishment. For new opportunities. For what will bloom and when. And for rebirth. Because rebirth, being the natural way of things, holds a great deal of comfort for me.


"For the first time she was vaguely perceiving that life is everlasting movement."
Booth Tarkington in Alice Adams

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Smelly Old Books: Part 2

Sometimes someone who's read a book before us will leave behind a trail of interaction in the margins or folded and hidden away between two pages. Sure, you can write notes on your e-reader, and you may even have the technology to handwrite them in so we can see the slant of your personality, but I still can't physically touch the pages you turned. I can't smell the book's age. I can't feel the weight of the whole or see the cracks in the binding. Reading a paper book is like looking into the eyes of the person you love, like touching his hand. An email, a voice on the line, a video chat, a text message--these will never replace a hand on the small of my back or a nervous kiss or a gaze held too long. The physical experience goes beyond receiving the message alone.

As I mentioned in Part 1, these are books we inherited from Jonathan's grandparents. So, though wonderful and valuable treasures have been found by other lucky readers, these are a bit more personal. They were left by people who are gone or very distant, but people personally known by the family. And they're especially lovely for that. Most of the things I found are marginalia and nearly all are in schoolbooks like this copy of The Open Door Language Series Fourth and Fifth Grades: Language Games and Stories.

What a great cover. The introduction says the book "endeavors to conserve ability in the use of language which is frequently lost when adult standards are prematurely thrust upon pupils and when all pupils are expected to fit into the same mold . . . it gives him an opportunity to develop his own individual type of mind." Good for you, 1928 schoolbook! I'll never know if it accomplished its goal, but I do know it was a great book for doodling in. And for practicing writing letters to dear friends.

In case you can't read the writing, it says:

                                                Marion, N. C.
                                               Dec. 17, 1930
Dear Joseph
     How are you, fine I hope.
What do you want for Christmas?
Oh Boy, But I would spend
($60)/sixty Dollars on you if only
I had it. You know I love you.
Do you love me?
I better close for this time.
Love --- Ruth G ---

We've got a seventh grade edition of the book as well. Inside, Jonathan's grandmother doodled pictures and wrote on almost every page, including this pretty little verse:

May is the month of springing
I can hear the birds singing
kiss each blossom on its vine
you will in this my question find

Sweetly romantic with a touch of Mrs. Darling at the end. Or possibly just something for school, but still, when a verse like this is written in messy cursive in a book that smells like the past, it's romantic whatever the person who wrote it really meant.

I can't say why exactly, but this next book is beautiful.

Is it age, experience, use? Is it that the cover no longer reveals what's inside? The title page says it's School Arithmetics: Book Two and is only about 90 years old, but living in a musty basement and surviving a doodler's childhood was almost more than it could take. Inside, besides writing her name in cursive over and over, Jonathan's grandmother copied the following verses and thoughts, which I'll let speak for themselves.

Im not going to my seat unless she calls my name and tells me to

Which did it do
Did the flu get you
or did you get the flu

When you are married
and spanking six
remember me
between the licks -

Don't steal this [book]
My little lad.
For 69¢ it cost my
And when you die
The Lord will say:
"Where is that book
you stole one day?"

The above was tucked into the middle of the book. I can't quite work it out. Can you?

The next find was a facsimile letter from the author in a book club version of The First Overland Mail by Robert E. Pinkerton. (This book is recommended reading by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Their site is really well done and fun.) How appropriate to find a letter in a book about mail.

The last and best find was a sixth year study reader from 1925. Not only is there A Map of Bookland inside (along with tips for travelers) . . .

. . . but R. E. Stroud drew this on the inside cover:


"For who can wonder that man should feel a vague belief in tales of disembodied spirits wandering through those places which they once dearly affected, when he himself, scarcely less separated from his old world than they, is for ever lingering upon past emotions and bygone times, and hovering, the ghost of his former self, about the places and people that warmed his heart of old?" Charles Dickens in Master Humphrey's Clock