SURROUNDED BY BOOKS
Everywhere I look at my grandparent’s house, there are books. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died that they should start to move some of them somewhere. I was an all too welcome recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that comes from their house. I realized this last trip their familiar presence has been a staple in my world since I was born and how much I take that presence for granted. Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I look. On this trip I notice the empty spots knowing that my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me over ten years ago when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.
Most of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their faith. When I say faith, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the cultural element. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones and their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism. Many religions can say this, thou shall not…. The familiar Ten Commandments has been a good set of human values for the most part and we were raised mostly with this as our examples.
I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books and in my past life when I was married as I made my way to their homes, this was a unique difference in my observations. Books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents have art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years. Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies, China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu and many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views. In turn they passed them on to their grandchildren by their examples along with the stories and endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us kids groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of us grandchildren that we wholeheartedly appreciate.
As I look around at the dwindling and many out of date collection of books, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Jewish Civilization to name a few I wonder what on earth we are going to do with all of these books when the time comes for my 101 year old grandfather to move on to his next adventure, hopefully with my grandmother and father and brother. Each time I have visited him for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? For him as I have asked him repeatedly, he replies with the simple answer, it’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s. Haha, touche, I think. While it seems like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this goes out the window because there seems to be in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.
“You are an emotional girl,” he has been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically it turns out that he too has a touch of emotion as well. Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this I have decided would be admitting that death was at the door waiting. It also takes out of the house my grandmother’s essence, their travels and adventures, and for this, I concede, it makes complete sense to hold on as long as he chooses. He deserves this. It is his stuff and his life. I am sure that when the time comes for him to move on, we will be all too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we will lay claim to tell. The books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many beautiful items that will find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is not the value of the item, the great news for our family is that none of us need any of it, it is the sentimental that I will cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I am in no rush for any of it because that just means that this world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I have nothing to cry about after all I have had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books are just the metaphor for the words and actions he has instilled in me and all of his grandchildren and as long as they are there, this means that he is. This is just fine with me.