Friday, March 17, 2017

History Within HIstory

My father and his brothers, without fail, would walk into each other's houses and open the fridge. First thing. Having grown up in the depression, having stolen each other's lunches, having had to eat fast or have it snatched by an older brother, gave them the rights to each other's refrigerators in times of plenty.

Though I am not above checking my children's fridges, I am more likely to peruse their bookshelves. The possibility of finding something exciting on a bookshelf is much more plausible than finding a fridge pot o' gold. The discovery of a new book would be more filling too.

The bookshelf discovery this time was published in 1964: Four Days, the Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy, compiled by United Press International and American Heritage Magazine. I had never before seen this book. Since teaching the Cuban Missile Crisis and touching lightly on JFK's presidency, my interest in the 35th president of the United States had grown. This find was akin to a chocolate cake in the icebox (Dad and the uncles used to call it the icebox).

Where did the book come from? What was its story? As I opened the book, read its pages, studied the photographs and captions, I had a feeling it was my son-in-law's grandfather's book. After his death, I pictured him finding the book within his grandfather's boxes along with other books copyrighted in the early 20th century.

Besides the obvious story of a book, there is also the hidden story. Years after my friend's father died, she found a book of his. It was a book she loved too. Within the pages was also a letter to her. She could have never imagined the treasure within.

The postcard tucked within the pages of Four Days, began to tell a story. Silas' grandfather would have been alive on November 22, 1963, and it would have been a day that momentarily shattered his life, as it did most Americans.


 Silas' grandfather had also pulled out a story from a 1964 Look magazine and tucked each of the magazine pages into the book. For Silas, for me, the book was no longer just a history of John F Kennedy, it was the history of a man who lived during the 20th century, who had witnessed one of its tragedies.

Since becoming a fan of Norman Rockwell art as young girl, I too clipped a spread about the artist from my mother's magazine. It was the next best thing to actually seeing or owning a Norman Rockwell painting. One Christmas, I received a coffee-table sized book of his art and tucked the magazine article into its pages. The book became a history within a history, the story of a young girl who admired an artist, who loved his work.

The history of socks in 1964-a perfectly
preserved ad

The last photo of President Kennedy and his family

It is why I love annotated books--previously owned by a loved one or a stranger. Within the pages are the mind and will of a mother, a sister, a friend.  I am currently savoring James Talmadge's work, Jesus the Christ, not only for the documented wisdom about the Savior, but because the book belonged to my father, was read by my mother, and her copious notes are a testimony of her indulgent and thorough reading. I know where she paused; where she was touched; what she wanted to remember. The reading becomes sacred and not only because of the subject~~ but because my mother's thoughts live in that book.