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.
Finally, one of my childhood dreams has come true:
I spent last night in a Little House on the Prairie episode.
At least, that’s what it sounded like, if I closed my eyes.
I wasn’t wearing a calico dress (although, let’s face it, I would have, if I could have found one) but nonetheless, I managed to pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, wearing calico, at a dance in the church/school, swooning over Almanzo (Manly) Wilder.
I was actually wearing jeans and a voopy blouse, at the firehall/library, swooning over Practical Man, so it was kind of the same, really.
After over a decade of living in the country, Practical Man and I went to the Friday night jam session at the firehall/library. The same firehall/library, which has my favourite librarian (her name is also Christine; I don’t think that’s a coincidence) and which, Practical Man rarely hesitates to point out, is just under 5 km from our front door, which is a very good thing because it means that you get a break on your insurance rate. Over 5 km and you’re out of luck.
I can’t believe I know that thing about insurance rates. What is happening to me?
Anyway, the sandwich board sign we have driven past for over a decade advertised “Friday Night Jam Session: All Welcome. 7-10 pm” so even though I wasn’t wearing calico, we decided to go. We were slightly late and smelling heavily of garlic, on account of having just consumed a super tasty dinner of bruschetta made out of cherry tomatoes, basil and garlic from our garden.
Fresh bruschetta is totally worth the social consequences.
We found some chairs at the back of the room and, trying not to exhale garlic fumes too much, settled in to see what was what. There was a couple waltzing near the front, a lady crooning some old, lovely song at the microphone and a plethora of musicians behind her, playing assorted instruments.
The man next to me leaned over (dangerously into the garlic fume zone, I might add), nodded his head in the direction of the waltzers and said, “Can you believe they’ve been married 70 years?”
Since I have entered the middle of ages–and strapping university football players have alarmingly started asking me things during career counselling appointments like, “If I were YOUR son, what would you tell me to do?” even though I feel 23 and FAR too young to be a university student’s parent–I might have described the man next to me as “a young man” except that even though he was easily 20 years younger than I, he and his wife and I were all a good 30 years younger than everybody in the room. Practical Man leaned towards my ear and whispered, “Even I feel young in this place!” and although I, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, have married an older man, I agreed with him.
He DID look young (and not entirely dissimilar to Almanzo Wilder, if I squinted a little).
The man who was young (ahem, like me), appeared to know everyone in the room and told us that this place was “like family” and “don’t be nervous to sing because everyone is really nice”.
I had not come to sing or play guitar: I had come to get the lay of the Friday night jam session land (and to pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder).
Because, here’s the thing:
Not everyone can sing.
I can carry a tune but I’m not sure it’s public-performance-get-up-on-a-stage kind of worthy. And, I have more than one music-loving friend who is completely tone deaf. Listening to them belt out a song with the car radio is sort of torture. But, I always let them do it. In fact, I sing along. When I was a teenager, I used to always roll the windows down with my friend Niggle, because the pain of listening to him sing (I use that term loosely because really, there was only one note) was lessened somewhat if I was simultaneously exposed to fresh air.
And lots of it.
But he loved music and I couldn’t rob him of that. The joy of music is that it’s free to everyone, regardless of talent or tone-deafness.
Sometimes, this is a slightly painful philosophy to uphold.
Last night, the singers were not professional. They were, more often than not, septua or octo-genarians, but enthusiastic and often, quite capable. It really was like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, with Pa playing the fiddle and Ma and Mr. Edwards dancing and Laura and Mary clapping.
Okay, I’m back.
Anyway, the rules of the Friday Night Jam seemed to be:
- if you want to sing/play, sign up on The List
- when your name is called, you get to sing/play two songs, max (don’t be hoggy of the microphone, even though it’s super fun to sing into one)
- no song shall have been written after 1955 (we’ll make an exception for Buddy Holly but only because Don does that stuff really well)
- audience shall clap enthusiastically for everyone
- dance if you’re inspired (waltz, foxtrot, two-step…ie REAL dancing only)
- there will, of course, be a lunch
The musical repertoire was from before my time (because I am oh-so young!) but often recognizable and sweet, even if I didn’t know the words. Practical Man kept singing along.
He seemed to know the words to that one.
And the next one, too.
As in, ALL the words.
This is what comes from having a May-September romance. He really is the Almanzo Wilder to my Laura Ingalls.
Around 8:15, there was The Lunch.
One of my favourite things about country parties and Legion dances is that there’s always The Lunch. It’s so vintage feeling and there is some magical formula that makes those triangle sandwiches always taste so good when you’re eating them in a firehall/library.
Then, it was back to the music. There was someone playing a fiddle (because that’s what you call a violin in the country):
There was also a harmonica, keyboards, guitar, base and even a mandolin (I love to imitate a mandolin, the way my dad does when he’s singing along to the Mr. Bojangles song, but I won’t do that here).
The couple celebrating their 70th anniversary would occasionally get up and waltz.
Mitch (the young man sitting next to us) and his bride Brittany did the two-step to a jaunty number.
There were some mumblers (think: Jeff Bridges in True Grit, not Bob Dylan) and painful singers who hadn’t quite cracked what key they should be in, but overall, it was lovely and rural and vintage-y.
That is, until, Mitch leaned over and said, “I guess you can see that you and us are quite a lot younger than everyone here.”
Before I could nod and act nonchalantly as if I wasn’t old enough to be Mitch’s mother, he continued, “I’m 26 and Brittany’s 22. What are you, 30?”
That’s when this episode of Little House on the Prairie became:
The Best Night Ever.
When we moved to our current house, I was very excited because of the magic drawer.
You know, the magic drawer that you put dishes in and then swish, swish, swish, swish, they magically come out clean.
Of course, Practical Man has been known to remove dishes from the magic drawer to wash them in the sink. It bewilders me and I would never do it because I believe it is an insult to the magic drawer whose mere existence is…magical, in my opinion.
Anyway, I have loved the magic drawer from the first moment we met. And, not just because there had been many times in my early 20s, when I hid dirty dishes in the oven when my mother came to visit. The magic drawer sort of mesmerizes me (I am easily entertained) but my fascination has its roots in vintage times, when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.
There was no magic drawer in our house. Not until I had left home. Behold the evidence. (p.s. my mother would like you to know that she, like Julia Child, no longer has pegboard in her kitchen.) Helping with the dishes and other parentally-inflicted hardships (like the lone, 13′” black-and-white TV we had until I left for university) allows my sister and I to tease our parents and feel smug about our “deprived” childhoods. Some parents cry when their children move out. Mine went on a shopping spree and bought all the modern conveniences we had been begging for over the years.
Anyway, no magic drawer. Deprived childhood. Years and years of doing dishes. Boo, hoo, hoo. You get the gist. All perfect material for a modern-day family dinner party.
However, we did have dishwashing music.
The deal in our house was that my mom cooked the supper and my sister, dad and I did the cleaning up. Far from mere drudgery of dirty pots and table crumbs, the “cleaning up” was my favourite part of any meal (especially if that meal had involved ratatouille or meatloaf–bleech). The dishwashing collection was our dad’s pile of 45 records, some old, some new. The only criteria for making it into the collection was that it had to have what he termed: “a good beat”.
All the better for us to engage in our tra-la-la (I think that’s where it started for me), doo wap and bee bop.
We were like the Ellen Degeneres show except with tea towels.
It was a festive affair, the cleaning up. It often took us hours what with the trading of DJ duties, careful selection of music, enthusiastic dancing (and dripping of water on the floor) and of course the…
A wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh…
A wah, wah, wah, wah, wonder…
One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, rock…
Wah ha ha ha ha haaaaah…
It was not a magic drawer, but it was magic. Around 8:00, our mom would appear from the basement (where she had no doubt been squinting at the tiny black and white television) and gasp, “Aren’t you done YET?!”
One more song. Just one more song.
The dishes were done ages ago. The tra-la-la, doo wap and bee bop of dishwashing music lasts forever.