Inscribe your favorite books, underline passages, and hold on to them. They will tell your children, and their children, more about you than any photo album. Thank goodness my mother never met a book too intimidating to write in, to bend a corner, to underline a passage, or scribble a thought.
When she passed away in 2001, at 64, my step-dad boxed up her metaphysical book collection and sent it to my sister. Overwhelmed by memories, Susan sent the box to me. I hastily absorbed it into my collection of similar books Mom had given me over my adult life. Each one is packed full of wisdom. Every book is inscribed and many contain Mom’s left-handed scrawl of a random thought as she worked out its meaning.
Mom had been raised Catholic. I often asked her why we were not Catholic, same as Nanny, Papa, my aunt, uncle and all our cousins. She confided a longing for something different at an early age due to a little book she had read as a teenager. She never mentioned the name of this book or where she had found it, only that it had changed her life.
Recently, as I waited for my laptop to perform lengthy updates, a little book beckoned from the adjacent bookshelf. I marveled at its delicate binding and content pre-dating a similar book by the same author Mom had given me decades earlier. As I read her inscription inside the front cover, I realized this was the book. I had finally found it. Mom had penned, “… found in the book-case of the cottage my father, A.R. Mason, purchased on Lake St. Helen, in Michigan. This was approximately 1950-51. It was my first introduction to truth and my constant quest to use these truths that make us free. Dorothy Ann Mason Lincoln.”
Her father’s cottage is mentioned in Memory Lake as ‘Papa’s cottage’. This log summerhome on tiny Lake St. Helen, in Central Michigan, delivered a childhood of laughter, pranks, skits, and sunshine to my sister, my cousins, and me. I still dream of its artesian well, woven hammocks, rocky flower beds hiding fat night-crawlers, and the steep hill to the lake. Its musty interior held many more treasures; a deer mount, faded upholstered furniture, bookshelves of hard-bound classics, and a defunct player-piano. When I was ten, Papa sold all of it upon learning he was terminally ill. Soon after, my sister and I began our years at summer camp.
My mother was fourteen when her father bought the cottage fully furnished. She hadn’t liked the place at first. Bored and disgruntled to be spending the weekend at the lake, instead of at home with friends, I imagine she had knelt on the large woolen rug, wearing saddle shoes and bobby socks, to examine the bookshelf. There she had found this little book and began reading.
Memory Lake is a ripple of this memory which continues to expand sixty-two years later. The little black book is inspiring, but not surprising because Mom had succeeded in her quest for truth and raised me on it. Instead, the surprise lies in the book’s existence. It held the capacity to sleep for decades without updates, conversions, or electricity to reveal a profound window to the past. I wonder, will someone find an e-reader sixty years from now with such a personal impact? Most likely it will not power up.
Inscribe your favorite books, underline passages, and hold on to them. They will tell your children, and their children, more about you than any photo album.
* H. Emilie Cady is the little black book’s author and she is affiliated with Unity. This is not the church I attended, nor the church affiliated with the camp in Memory Lake, so it is a fun coincidence that she was from Dryden, New York, the same one stop-light hometown of my first friend at camp, and main character in Memory Lake, “Nancy Roman”.