Everyone knows that collecting books isn’t the same as hoarding, right?
Collecting books is literary. It’s a luxury (after all, how many mansions and castles didn’t have a library room?) It’s professorial.
And, even though I’m a professor’s daughter and not a professor myself–not to mention a library user and advocate–I do love to keep me some books.
Especially vintage books.
Just a few.
Before you start picturing the worst-case scenario, let me clarify that we only have four bookshelves in our home.
Okay, fine. We have books in nearly every room (on tables, in magazine racks, in cabinets,) but only four official bookshelves. That’s what counts.
Four bookshelves is nothing for a bookworm/vintage lover/pack rat, all rolled into one.
Really, I’m small potatoes in the world of book hoarding–I mean–collecting.
I once knew a couple who brought back over 250 books from their honeymoon. He was doing his PhD (What did I tell you? Book collections are professorial.) and she just loved books. Their Victorian house was a maze of floor-to-nearly-ceiling shelves, lining the walls in every room, the hallways and even up the stairs. The top floor used to be fiction and the bottom floor was non-fiction. Even if I hadn’t been living in a village with a teeny, tiny library at the time, I would have loved their house. It came up for sale recently and I was tempted to buy it even though they and their books are long gone.
Their collection made that house a home.
It was a swoon-y, book lover’s house of the best kind.
Like that couple, our measly four bookshelves are also floor-to-ceiling and chock-a-block with books of all kinds. Mildly organized, as I like to be once or twice a year and clustered among other vintage objects that need a home. I also (ahem) collect a few vintage toys, which fit very well in my children’s book section.
I believe the staging experts calls this “giving the eye a place to land.”
Anyhoo, the annual book sale for the local symphony orchestra started this weekend and I have never been. I can’t imagine why, especially after all the fun I had there on Friday evening.
It was in a warehouse, which made it even more fun because of the whole forsaken, industrial vibe. Plus, there is bound to be tonnage of books in a WAREHOUSE!
When we got inside, there was a map which showed what types of books were in each section.
Maps = tonnage!
Sections = tonnage!
I consulted the map and tried not to squeal. There was a children’s section and music A, B, and C sections!
Three sub-sections = tonnage!
Practical Man and I mused about the definition of “Ephemera”.
Such a fun word, don’t you think?
Can’t remember what it means, of course. This is why I don’t do crossword puzzles, like my sister and Grandma Helen. I could Google the word, but I like to give my brain a chance to percolate for a few days.
It’s cheaper than Lumosity.com.
I hot-footed it to the music section, leaving a Practical Man in my book-hoarding dust. There were books about genres of music and books about the people who make music. But, I’m not as keen on reading about music as I am about playing it. So, I searched through lots of classical piano books–even a couple that looked just like the ones I scored in East Berlin back in 1985, before the Berlin Wall came down. (You had to spend all your money before you came back to the West and I spent it, even then, on super-economical, communist music books.)
On Friday evening, I looked for guitar books to help me with my new-ish relationship with Alice, my guitar.
It was a fun search but, yielded nothing interesting.
Then, I saw them: piles of vintage sheet music. There were boxes full of music with retro graphics and songs from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Swoon-y swoon, swoon!
There was music featuring my friend (well, in my imagination anyway), Julie Andrews. I’ll frame this score by my piano.
Some of the books just SMELLED vintage and special and the pages and illustrations dated them instantly to a by-gone era. Like, this Fireside Book of Folk Songs that is a large, hardcover book from 1947. There are songs to sing and play from South America and Scotland, Cowboy songs and Railroad songs, Hebrew songs and Chinese songs. There is even a part for spirituals and hymns. The arranger notes in the preface that “To avoid the monotony and vulgarity, no attempt has been made to persuade one style of accompaniment to suit varying styles of melody, and the square-toed “oom-pah” bass had been studiously avoided.”
Now, who wouldn’t want to take that book home with them for the bargain price of $1?
I found a couple of gifts for people who appreciate this kind of dusty treasure just as much as I do (I wish I could show them to you!) and Practical Man popped by every once in a while to carry my growing pile, because opening my car door and carrying my books is the kind of vintage gallantry that oozes out of his pores every old day of the week. He paid my $12 total at the end of our book sale, Friday night date, too.
He’s a keeper, that man.
As I rifled through the sheet music, I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Judging from the era of most of the music, I wondered if it had come from one person’s collection. And, I suddenly realized that something really special might be found within the stack. Something that was worth far more than the 10 cent price tag that was listed on the sign.
And then, I found it.
The song that would bring tears to my eyes in a warehouse full of bargain book tonnage:
It was sung in an episode of Downton Abbey in recent years, but, that’s not why I know the chorus by heart:
I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper
that you love me too…”
Originally a hit in 1911, it became the biggest selling popular song on the market again, in the run up to WWII.
But more than this, it’s the song my grandparents played in their “cellar” rec room, amongst the ’50s furniture, when I was growing up.
It was the first song that they danced to at their 40th wedding anniversary, when I was 13 years old, my grandfather with tears brimming in his eyes.
It was my grandparents’ love song.
And, in part because of the symphony book sale, its ours too.
I love things vintage, so you can imagine that I don’t always have an easy time getting rid of…um…stuff.
But, I am trying genuinely hard to downsize and have lately been embracing the experience as an opportunity to curate my…um…stuff down to the things that I truly, truly love, have space for, and use very frequently.
To quote Yoda (which seems apropos recently):
Donated, I did, the rhinoceros doo-dahs I used to collect.
Still, today as I was going through drawers in my craft room/office, I came upon a cache of old greeting cards we’ve received. I save (too) many cards because it feels like a way to make them worth at least some of the paper and glitter and money that people have invested in them. I’m writing this with glitter in my eyebrows and socks so trust me when I say there’s plenty of glitter and think about it: cards are a whole lot of environmental and fiscal energy that get read in under 10 seconds. Then later, you toss them away.
Except, if you’re me of course, who collects cards like a chipmunk collecting nuts for winter.
Insert “she’s a hoarder in denial” theme song here.
Anyway, I save them for a while (okay, fine, I found one today dated 2004) and then spend time with a big stack, while watching TV or listening to music. I cut out the bits I want to re-use with my pinking shears and fashion them into gift tags which I will (and do) use later.
(See, you thought I was just making this up, didn’t you?)
Some of you are snickering, I’m sure, but it really does make me feel as if I’ve extended the life of cards for at least one more round.
(Just pretend it’s wartime and we’re rationing stuff.)
Long ago (like, until last year), I used to save cards for sentimental reasons but I have eschewed sentimentality (or tried to) lately. I have been sensible and rational and only kept a sampling of cards from my years of teenage angst and youthful adventures (in the plastic Harrod’s bag I got while working on Oxford Street in London, the year I was 20.) Okay, fine, and I also have the Harvey’s hamburger wrapper my friend, Ugly Orange Sweater Guy, wrote me a letter on while I was languishing without Harvey’s in England, the year I was 16/17, but I’m sure you can agree that a letter written on a Harvey’s wrapper is an artifact well worth hoarding—I mean, preserving.
Anyhoo, while cutting and chopping, pinking and punching today, I found some treasures.
Two cards from my old friend, Little Julie, who became an angel to her husband and three, young sons, a few years ago, after cancer.
I could hear her voice as I read her words.
What a gift, I thought, and tried to blink away the tears.
Then, a card from my Grandma Helen, gone now for nearly a decade (I can’t believe it).
Signed the same way, her cards always were:
All my love back to you, Grandma.
It’s lovely how someone’s handwriting can immediately bring them to you. I wonder, in this age of so little handwriting anymore, will we have lost the chance to re-connect for those brief moments with people we have known and loved?
Then, cards from Practical Man’s German Mutti (now, sadly, living with dementia) and his Canadian mother, (cancer took her, too.)
I know that the um…stuff…is not the same as the person. I’ve watched the shows and chanted those mantras to myself. I’ve even photographed said stuff and then let it go.
But, I recently received the book my dad and aunt wrote about my great-grandparents. In it, there is a sweet and flirty letter my great-grandma wrote to my great-grandfather, while they were dating. There are tender and lonely letters my great-grandfather wrote to his wife and children while he was in the sanitorium for tuberculosis for two years. There is even the original hotel bill from my great-grandparents honeymoon night in Chicago in 1923:
Meaningless stuff, you might say.
I obviously come from a long line of hoarders, you might say.
And, you might be right.
But, to those angels who touched my shoulders today and other days: thank you for visiting.
We miss you.