Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Bookshelf and the Encyclopedias

My first bookcase was a simple affair: four shelves made of boards of pine stained a reddish brown. My father built it one weekend; I would have been nine or ten years old. It held my Golden Book Encyclopedias (purchased one a week by my mother at the A&P grocery store); my Hardy Boys stories (usually placed in the vicinity of my Trixie Belden mysteries); several Tom Swift books; and the books I ordered each month at school through the Scholastic Book Service (oh, my barely contained excitement to see the monthly SBS box sitting by the teacher’s desk).

The first bookcase ended up traveling; it followed me to Texas, and then it followed my wife and me to St. Louis. It was joined for a time by the college student’s need for cheap bookcases (cinder blocks and board, again of pine but unstained), then by the set of three-you-could-buy- fairly-reasonably at the furniture store (the set you knocked together yourself).

Actually, it was followed by several sets of three over the years. Some of those sets have come and gone; others still reside in our basement, holding a host of non-book things. The good bookcases are upstairs, occupying most of one bedroom and part of another. Oh, and there’s that small shelf in still another.

The original bookcase, now more than half a century old, sits in our basement. It’s still just as sturdy as it ever was. It’s never needed repairs. And on its bottom shelf sits that same set of Golden Book Encyclopedias that my mother bought at the A&P. (If you look closely, we can see them in the picture above on the bottom shelf, to the right of my high school “Warrior” yearbooks .) Years ago, when we were visiting my mother in New Orleans, she asked me if I still wanted them. If not, they were headed for the next garage sale. Since the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden had already walked the plank at one of her garage sales, I took them back to St. Louis.

I suspect that the only reason she didn’t set them out to be sold was that she remembered buying them a volume a week at the A&P, trying to remember which volume to get, occasionally marking it down on her grocery lists, sometimes buying the wrong one and having to return it. Yes, she had a lot invested in those encyclopedias.

The bookshelf they sit in, that bookshelf they first sat in, is a bit worn, sitting rather quietly as it does in the basement. I can still remember watching my father build it. I can still remember my excitement. I can probably imagine my mother’s relief at having a place to put my books.

My father and I did few things together, outside of working at his printing business. The bookshelf project was one of them, even though my participation consisted of watching him. But that was sufficient; he was building it for me.
And those encyclopedias – they’ll likely end up eventually as a donation to Good Will, or sitting in a box on the driveway as part of a garage sale. But not in my lifetime. They may be meaningless to my children, but I know what attention and focus my mother brought to their acquisition. Just as I know the effort my father put into that bookcase.

In Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, Bonnie Gray talks about a bookcase, one she kept in her bedroom until a friend convinced her to move it to the living room. The bookcase represented safety and escape. It blocked memories of bad experiences. Moving it was an act of embracing vulnerability.

And there’s my bookcase, sitting in the basement, holding those encyclopedias, among other things. It’s a reminder of things my parents did for me, ways they recognized that they had this voracious reader in the family and weren’t quite sure what to do with him, but they would at least build him a bookcase to hold his books. 


Unknown said...

Fantastic! What joys a simple bookshelf can hold. It makes me think about what I treasure from my parents and what memories I can create for my daughter

SimplyDarlene said...

Terrifical! In so many ways. My 10-year old son's bookcase is lined with many of the same books.

We inherited books and homemade bookcases from my husband's grandpa - by default because nobody else wanted "all that junk." OH MY land, we were thrilled… we found WWI field manuals with personal notes inked in the fronts, readers and botany books that are 200 years old, and all sorts of other treasures.

And the homemade bookcases look very similar to yours. They've served many purposes over the years and I've recently cleaned them for hopeful use in the kitchen, nailed to the wall as open cupboards.


kchripczuk said...

I love this Glenn. Oh how I LONGED for a bookcase as a child. I finally I inherited one when a great Aunt moved into assisted living (or did she pass away?). Anyway, it was an awful shade of green, but I LOVED it. I alphabetized all of my books and made library cards for each and every one. I can never understand people who don't own books and I'm so glad now that we've moved to finally have my books out of storage.

Rick Dawson said...

Oh, Glynn - I don't remember any special bookcase, but I remember the Golden Book Encyclopedias, and the image of the covers reminded me of a time when life at my family home was good. I spent hours reading those books, and when they got moved to the attic I found a new place to read - a footlocker served as a table, rough-hewn planking as my floor and seat, the rafters my vaulted ceiling and the tiny window my sole source of light (until I was tall enough to reach the short string my dad had placed on the fixture).

Thanks for some great reminders of a simpler time - which also jogged loose another series of memories of childhood Bible stories in print form, Aesop's Fables, and dusty discoveries!

Anonymous said...

i love your story as well as rick's story.
my shelves were at the library
a very small room at the top of
a long flight of narrow stairs
with books that i couldn't read
because there were not yet any
children's books that i could see.
i toom myself to this library
and i'm surprised as i now remember
that they let me take the books home
but i always brought them back
eventually the library was expanded
and there were children's books
but i was no longer a child
and i stopped going
until i needed to use encyclopedias
to do school work.
i did little reading until i was
i knew Peter. He is a reader
from way back. Now i am again
a library fan, and i check-out books
that i can actually read. But now,
i also check-out children's books
to look at the illustrations.

:-) davis