The Gift of Books
Memere (a French-Canadian term for "grandma") gave me books. For Christmas, for birthdays, for special achievements (like when I won writing contests in school), her go-to gift was always a book. She was quite adept at choosing just the right book for my current state of affairs. When I was in junior high, she discovered that I was interested in becoming a doctor (an idea that ended as soon as I realized how many years of schooling it would require). She gave me a biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor.
In 1983, she learned that Robert Frost was my favorite poet because I had fallen in love with his poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" while reading S.E. Hinton's book The Outsiders for a class English assignment. She gave me two books of Robert Frost's poetry:
I still have these two books, and Memere always inscribed the date, my name, and sometimes signed her own name.
In 1987, the year of my confirmation in the Catholic church, she gave me two books: The Day Christ was Born and The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop. I confess to not reading them until years later, after I had left the church and finally felt able to read a religious book with a neutral attitude. They were actually two well-written stories.
Memere gave me many other books over the years, but the most fascinating--and now a most cherished--book, is one she used to own that was given to me by my father after her death.
A Glimpse Into the Mind (and Heart) of Memere
Memere was my father's mother, and the mother of nine other children. As a small child, I was a little afraid of her. She spoke French a lot, especially with my great-grandmother. She seemed to rarely smile, and she wasn't the type to pull you on her lap and shower you with kisses. That was my impression, anyway. As I got older, I began to understand her a little more, mostly because I recognized many of her traits had managed to manifest in my own personality.
When my father gave me the poetry book as a memento after her death, it seemed more than appropriate that her last gift to me should be a book. Later, as I was perusing the pages, I stumbled upon a handful of loose pieces of paper tucked in the very back
My heart quickened. I love finding things like this in old books! This is why I collect them. Each one is a piece of history, and now I had a piece of my grandmother's history.
The first page contained a list of what I assume were her favorite poems contained within the book. She had written the title, the author and the page number where it could be found. I immediately flipped to each poem and read them.
The next piece of paper was an interesting little scrap with a typed quote from Malcolm Muggeridge. The backside indicated the paper is a recycled restaurant placemat. Happy Valentine's Day?
The next three pieces of paper were poems Memere had hand-written, but weren't contained in the book. I wonder what book she copied them from and why did she place them in this book?
I flipped through the rest of the pages--always flip through all of the pages in an old book!--and found two more items:
My mind swims with possibilities as to why she marked these pages. The "Ebb" poem is in the Robert Frost section and the book mark is in the Walt Whitman section. Which poems was she marking?
After this discovery, I feel like I know Memere just a little better. The poems she chose to copy in her own hand meant something to her. Poems she noted by page number were special to her as well. Each one seems to hint at tender-hearted feelings that never seemed to breach her seemingly stern facade.
I imagine her reading them and smiling a bit. I imagine her hand holding the pen as she writes the words in straight, careful lines. I bet she never imagined her granddaughter would someday stumble upon her personal notes, written in her own hand.
Perhaps it was no secret, but I never really knew she had an affinity for poetry. It doesn't seem like something a child would know about their grandmother. Maybe that is why she always gave me books for gifts. Maybe she recognized that we had something in common. Or maybe she gave all of her grandchildren books. Either way, I am extremely grateful to have a tangible piece of her personality in my library.
It makes me think about all of my own handwritten notes scattered around the house. Maybe I'll start tucking scraps of paper into books. Will anyone discover them after I'm gone? Will anyone care? I hope so.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.