When hurricane Harvey pounded my city for three days I became concerned that my home would flood. I had received notifications from friends and family members indicating that they had to leave their houses as water gushed in through the weep holes and began to inundate their rooms. As the days wore on and the rain continued I felt certain that the drainage system that had kept the water from encroaching on my yard would sooner or later become full. I feared the worst and began to prepare as best as I could for what I believed might be the eventual fate of my house.
I carried as many of my most prized possessions upstairs. Among those items was a set of two books that had once belonged to my father. One was a volume of the brothers Grimm fairy tales and the other was a collection of stories by Hans Christian Andersen. They had once been lovely with their embossed gold covers and the colorful illustrations inside. Over time the pages had yellowed and the binding had begun to fray. I might easily have replaced them with newer versions, but I felt a special attachment to the originals and wanted to save them in the event of a disaster inside my home.
My father had read the tales contained inside to me from the time that I was a small child. I had come to view those books as a link to him even long after he was dead. I still remember the intense joy that I felt listening to his voice animate the characters in each story. I suppose that the love that I felt from my father spilled over into a love of reading from those days forward. Those books became even more precious to me when he died. They were an unspoken link to him. His hands had touched the pages. His voice had told the tales. Just touching the volumes became a spiritual experience.
I fear for the life of the books because they have become so fragile. I wonder if there is some talented book binder who can restore them without changing their essence. I’d like to see them repaired, but not replaced. If someone had to toss the original binding away and begin anew, the books would not be the same. I only want them strengthened so that they do not turn to dust in my hands. I desire to have them reinforced so that nobody thinks to throw them away when I am gone.
I suppose that there is something a bit silly about my love of those books. It is as though the magic of the stories and the fairies contained inside have somehow become real enough to make them so special that they cannot ever be replaced. They were the beginning of my delight with reading and learning. For me they have been imbued with a kind of magic of their own.
Weekends with my father often meant trips to a bookstore. Even on vacations we avoided silly souvenir shops and instead found quaint little stores filled with the smell of paper and print. Our remembrances of trips came in the form of a storybook or a volume with instructions for tying knots. I will forever recall visiting the library in Corpus Christi or stopping at an old bookseller’s place in Hollywood.
Both the oldest of my brothers and I think of reading and classical music when we describe our father. The first thing that he did each evening when he came home from work is browse the local newspaper or read a few chapters of his latest purchase from a bookstore. His store of titles was as eclectic as his personality. His tastes ranged from humor to science and everything in between. At the time of his death he had been in the process of obtaining a collection of the world’s greatest literature beautifully bound. He would buy one volume from the set, read it, and then select another.
When I was earning my degree in education I was not surprised to learn that youngsters whose parents read to them from infancy are generally more likely to do well in school. We humans emulate the behaviors that we see our parents enjoying. They provide us with hints of what our mothers and fathers believe to be important. If they read to us each day and we also see them reading by themselves, we begin to believe that reading is an important skill to embrace. We want to know how to decipher those lines and squiggles on paper. We also sense the love that lies behind those sessions when they carve out special time to read to us.
I never believed in the magic of fairies or that the stories my father read to me were real. I have always been more practical than that. What I learned from the daily readings of those books is how special my father’s feelings for me were. In that regard those two books are some of my most prized possessions. They may be of little worth to others, but to me they are more valuable than gold.