Key to the Treasure

I keep dreaming of my childhood home. I won’t bore you with the details; with the recalling of the coat closet next to the front door; the fur that once lived there, but didn’t appear in my dream. In my dream, my mother pulled out a vintage polyester shirt draped over a wire hanger steam-pressed and plastic wrapped years ago, now eager to breathe. She handed it to me, “Do you want this?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer.

= =

My middle son is reading a musky-smelling original hardcover edition of Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. It’s not the edition I read when I was nine — mine was paperback. But mine was lost in the Flood.

= =

I know for certain someone somewhere is reading my copy of New York Then and Now on a toilet. It’s a book meant to be read on the toilet.

They call them coffee table books, but no one has time for coffee anymore. They ought to be called toilet books. This is where I go when I want to pore over pictures from then and now.

Why can’t I manage to hang on to my books? Especially the ones I sought out, hand-picked, then coveted?

I found some of my lost New York books at The Strand last December. I had an urge to buy them all in an effort to once again build a carefully curated collection. This would have been a redux since once before — on weekday afternoons at Bookman’s in Tucson — I spent my lunch hour scanning the children’s section for the titles lost in the Flood.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

==

Except this.

I accept the hardcover original edition of Key to the Treasure, but I do so with a gentle stab of reluctance. I understand it’s the story I was wild about when I was nine — Jed and Bill and Liza and the feathered bonnet and the sorrow of missed connections passed down through the generations — not the texture of the pages or the color illustration on the cover. And yet, I want back what was once mine.

After all, if I had wanted to part with it I would have. I would have piled my copy of the book on top of the others that were going to Good Will. But I didn’t. I kept it on my shelf and then placed it in a cardboard box which I labelled “Jen’s books” before my father carried it down to the basement.

Those books, I believed, were meant to be found again one day.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

= =

I can have almost anything I want: a Fisher Price Sesame Street set, a pair of gently-used docksiders, a Speak and Spell, an autographed pull-out poster of Mackenzie Astin. People are buying and selling my faded memories…and yours… all the time.

I can have almost anything I want.

==

And yet, there is something worthwhile in the losing. In the being lost.

Between us, there are books

It’s not difficult to spot us.

Those of us in love with old books.

We have shelves full of them.

We smuggle them into our homes despite the eye rolling of our spouses, our parents, our roommates.

We tolerate repetitive sneezing due to dust and the mildew and the ancient tree pollen lurking beneath pages 204 and 205 of the worn book of poetry; for the last time it was opened was beneath an olive tree in the rain.

We can be spotted inside libraries caressing the faded red jacket cover of a 1930s edition of Alice in Wonderland, both in awe that this edition is in our hands and moved by the many hands it has passed through.

Hands now wrinkled, hands now dead and buried, hands that have held wonders of their own in the years since they last held Alice’s.

old edition of Alice

We weep at inscriptions:

To John, Love Grandma

To my beloved wife on our 5th wedding anniversary

To the 8th grade graduates of Merrick Long Island Hebrew Academy. Mazel Tov!

We rescue old books from the recycling plant or, worse yet, from the dump.

We hold on to them in case of the apocalypse or hand them over to crafty friends to offer them a secondhand chance at life as a kitschy framed work of art for sale on etsy or as an IPAD cover, a final project for graphic design school.

Sometimes you hear us sighing in a used book store.

Sometimes we get lost in a used bookstore.

Sometimes we get caught longing for a used book store. Someone asks us, “What were you thinking about just then?” And we answer, “I was looking at your canvas tote bag from The Strand and wishing I was there right now.”

Truth be told: If I could be anywhere right now, I would be inside a used book store.

I would be sneezing my brains out. I would desperately need to use the bathroom (book stores have done this to me since I was 7.) I would lose track of time and part with lots of money, but this is where I would choose to be on any given day.

Even on a beach day.

I suppose TV had a hand in this, what with Charmed and Buffy and farther back even still, Friday the 13th The Series.

I suppose that movies had a hand in this, what with The Neverending Story and The Ninth Gate.

I suppose books themselves have had a hand in this, too. By becoming old. By becoming rare. By becoming obsolete in a way. By carrying in their spines the secrets of a thousand and one human beings.

I don’t know why, exactly, I have such a strong affection for old books, but I imagine it’s wrapped in my curious regard for the passing of time.

It’s a way to touch the past.

It’s a way to relate to people who I will never have the chance to speak to or behold.

It’s time travel of a sort. It is. Stop saying it isn’t.

Old books make me weep for the people who once read them.

For the person who will read it after me. Whom, I hope, might weep for me, too.

Might remember me, the ghost of me … with fondness.

For, despite the space and time between us, we both once turned this book over; swiped the top corner with a damp pointer finger; placed it spread open wide on a night stand or flat sandwiching a clean white tissue inside.

Times passes. We pass.

But between us, there are books.

 

 

 

 

This poem comes in pencil only

This guy popped out of nowhere after 30 or so years just when I needed him most.

pencial sharpener antique 1980s

He looks like a dapper old cat, but what you can’t see … what he’s hiding behind his back … is his secret weapon.

And exactly what I need right now.

A pencil sharpener.

It’s hard to explain exactly why I found him where I did (inside a personalized pink plastic container holding personalized pink hair ribbons), but I’m not one to question serendipity (okay, I am.)

It just so happens that I’ve been desperate for a good pencil sharpener lately.

If I had my choice, I’d get a vintage one from a 1950s midwestern schoolhouse and hammer it into my kitchen wall — BANG BANG BANG — but those guys seem to be going for big bucks on ebay and anyway I need mine to be the travelin’ type.

And this dandy cat looks ripe for travelin’, don’t you think?

He needs to fit in my handbag, the one holding a heavy spiral bound notebook with a hard cover decorated in mandalas.

I’m writing more by hand these days, you see.  Not because I want to. (Frankly, I prefer the feel of a circa 2005 keyboard against my rapidly tap tap tapping fingers. I also covet the ability to quickly delete the last thought I just had. See? I just deleted a thought you will never know.)

But because  I’ve accidentally become a poet: a compulsive stringer together of words. And poets (potentially the most compulsive artists of all) need at their side a means to satisfy their urges.

A computer won’t do. One needs to get down words with haste.

A smartphone won’t either. My thumbs are too thick, too clumsy. “Bogus” accidentally becomes “booger.”

If only I had a secretary by my side. … the cat would surely do if only he was alive.

“Please, kind sir, take down this line,” I might say to the cat if only he could lift his  hand away from his orange man purse and take dictation. “No, strike that! Change compulsive to inveterate.”

A case for hoarding

I’m a hoarder.

I hoard paper, photos, t-shirts, cozy socks, cookies, memories, books.

Especially books. And memories.

I’m not so compulsive to be recruited for a reality TV show, but I’m bad enough that closets are always full and there’s never enough storage space.

Not in my house, not in my brain.

Despite this need to hang on, each time I have moved homes (about 6 or 7 times in adulthood), I’ve let go of things I didn’t think I would need anymore.

I purge — in the rapid, violent way the word evokes.

Goodbye to the japanime LeSportSac bag I coveted. Sayonara to the collector’s set of Leonardo DiCaprio movies on VHS. Farewell to the Fall-inspired finger paintings done by my son when he was 18 months old.

When we moved to Israel, a country that does not believe in closets, nor basements, my husband and I did a major purge — in the form of a yard sale and of giveaways to friends and neighbors. But there were about a dozen boxes we knew not to bother opening — for they would go into storage until we figured out exactly what this aliyah thing would mean for our family.

Boxes sealed in brown packing tape marked in hastily drawn capital letters:

JEN’S MEMORABILIA

AVI’S OLD PAINTINGS

WEDDING PARAPHENALIA

MIXED TAPES, SCHOOL PAPERS OF JEN’S, DO NOT THROW AWAY!!!!!!

CARDS, PERSONAL

Those boxes landed in Israel on a cargo ship a few weeks ago and eventually — after the usual Israeli-style run-around at customs — arrived in our storage room/bomb shelter last week.

Carefully, carefully I am opening those cardboard boxes.

Because they aren’t just cardboard boxes, you know.

They are Pandora’s. Modern day Pandora’s boxes.

Carefully… because danger lurks in the folded over corners of hoarded memories

just as often as joyful surprise.

Carefully… because yellowed papers inside a stale smelling tupperware container may easily transform into messages in a bottle.

Carefully… because when you save, when you keep, when you store away, you might just get what you wish for one day–

a portal into the past.

a light unto what was once dark.

* * *

Watch this space to see what I discover inside a set of boxes.