"Take any books of your mom's that you want," Dad said.
Aside from a few of Mom's longtime personal favourites, there really weren't many books left in the bookcase; she was more of a book-passer-onner than a book-keeper. I took only three.
One was a high-school copy of Heroic Tales in Verse, edited by the Canadian poet E.J. Pratt, with Mom's name and "10A" written inside the cover. Something from a young girl I never knew, the age of my Apprentice, with nothing more on her mind than scribbling the difference between blank verse and free verse in the back of her literature book.
One was a copy of Out to Canaan, that I'd given Mom a few years ago. Something from her last years; something about getting older.
The third was a late-70's paperback copy of Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Maybe I gave that to her too, I don't remember; but in any case I found it somehow appropriate. A 1950's book, in a printing from the time when Mom was about my age now. Again a re-read for me, but I drank in Anne's loving descriptions of channelled whelks and moonshells, her "time out" on a private beach, and her musings on the stages of our lives. She wrote that "woman today is still searching. We are aware of our hunger and needs, but still ignorant of what will satisfy them. With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them....Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost."
Did Mom ever nod her head at that quote? Did she wish, during the turbulence of our growing up, for a quiet week on a beach to pick up those same shells? I don't know; we shared books, but didn't often talk about them afterwards. I like to think she did, if only because she kept the book when she'd given so many others away.
I read (re-read) Out to Canaan over the next few days, wondering if Mom had gotten around to reading this, and if she'd enjoyed it; if she'd laughed when Gene stepped in Esther's orange marmalade cake; if she'd related at all to Father Tim's worries over retirement; and there's the unforgettable scene of the church ladies trying to get the aforesaid cake recipe out of Esther with her two broken arms and her jaw wired shut...("She blinked twice, that's no. Try again. One teaspoon? Oh, thank God! Vanita, one teaspoon.")
And then, near the end, this Christmas Eve vignette:
"He reached up to the closet shelf for the camera and touched the box of his mother's things--the handkerchiefs, her wedding ring, an evening purse, buttons....He would not take it down, but it had somehow released memories of his mother's Christmases, and the scent of chickory coffee and steaming puddings and cookies baking on great sheets....'Mother...' he whispered into the darkened warmth of the closet. 'I remember...'"
I was glad that part came so near the end of the book. I was glad it was followed by nothing but joy.
From Gift from the Sea:
"Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally."
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