Several years ago, after my mother procured for me my favorite book from childhood - The Rebel Witch by Jack Lovejoy - that had been out of print for many years, I began collecting 1st edition children's books. My collection is modest but it has some wonderful titles in it and I love each one as a friend regardless of how well known or how well written it is.
Particularly wonderful finds are books that are also inscribed. Any book that is inscribed has special meaning to me - I have been known to buy a book simply for its inscription - but an inscribed child's book has special significance somehow. There is love in an inscription. And, too often, I find these carefully inscribed tomes at garage sales, fundraiser book sales, or secondhand shops where it feels as though the sentiment behind the inscription has been discarded, tossed aside. I collect these inscriptions in an odd, awkward attempt to scoop up the love poured into them and to honor it somehow...to, I don't know, pay attention to someone else's feelings when the recipient laid those feelings aside. It's almost...voyeuristic I suppose. But I don't care. It means something to me and I guess that's what's really important.
Anyway! A couple of months ago, I shared with Evelyn, the mother of Acr0nym and TC, this information during a casual conversation. At least about collecting 1st edition children's books. I don't remember telling her about the inscription thing. Maybe I did. I don't recall.
So today, Christmas day, I arrived empty handed - sporting only a lowly pie - to Evelyn's home to share the holiday with her and her husband, Acr0nym, TC and Mrs. TC and their twin girls, as well as a family friend (who was most delightful and made THE BEST JELLO CONCOCTION EVER!). I'd told Evelyn when she invited me that the gift was the invitation to spend the holiday with them and no other gift was warranted or expected. She didn't listen. Well, that's not fair, she listened but she didn't heed.
As it turns out, I'm glad she didn't.
Under the tree, there was a package just for me with a note on it: "J, I will explain these to you later. - E".
Upon removing the wrapping paper, I found several 1st edition children's books. But there were three, all by the same author, Lillian Budd, that grabbed my undivided attention. Because, not only were they inscribed, they were inscribed by the author herself. And not only were they inscribed by the author herself but the notes clearly indicated there was a personal connection between the author and the recipients. Two were to Evelyn's first child who died in early childhood and the third to Evelyn's mother. Turns out, Lillian and Mabel, Evelyn's mother, met and became friends when they were two of the first women to seize the opportunity to enlist in the US military during WWI.
I burst into tears.
I'm serious. I totally did. It wasn't the "ugly cry". But it was damn close.
My reaction was a mite uncomfortable and unexpected for everyone else to be sure.
I'm overly sentimental and emotional. I get that and I totally admit it. But, to me, a collector of both children's books and love through other people's notes, this was like receiving a king's ransom. Not only were they books that fit, by their own merit, quite neatly into my criteria for cherished items, they were also richly endowed - by a few strokes of a pen - with history, friendship, love, and, ultimately, loss. The added bonus was also getting to hear, and become the keeper, of the history behind them.
Today I received the neatest gift I think I have ever received with, perhaps, the exception of The Rebel Witch from my mother years ago. I don't know how to explain it any better about why 3, not particularly well-written books (according to the giver), were so revered by me.
They just were.
And now I'll have not only the story behind the books and inscriptions to tell to everyone who will listen but the story of how I acquired them.
I feel like I'm a part of history.
So thank you, Evelyn. You sure do know how to give a gift.