|BWS Stories - "Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be"...Times Have Changed|
"Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be"...Times Have Changed - Aging Pages
Wendy is a former special education teacher and present owner of Professional Communications LLC (www.professionalcommunications.net). Her stories have
appeared in Writer's Digest, The Upper Room and Skirt! magazine and in the anthologies Tis the Season (Novello Press), Hungry for Home (Novello Press) and On Air: Essays from Charlotte's NPR Station, WFAE 90.7.
Chipmunks were the first ones to explore the boxes stored in my garage. Two years after my father’s death, I was finally tackling the job of going through these boxes filled with his old books. That’s when I discovered that the little critters had already nibbled glue from paperback spines and shredded pages for their nests.
There was nothing to do but strap on my rubber gloves and dive in. Maybe I could brush away the acorn shells and tiny turds and salvage something.
Digging deep into the biggest box, I was relieved to find that many titles had survived their winter guests. Still, it was sad to see how the books had aged. Their once hard covers were soft and cracked, their pages yellowed with time. I thought back to childhood summer days, seeing my father outside on a lawn chair, engrossed in these very same books. Now they all smelled musty…old. Checking their dates, I noticed several were published in the early fifties.
Yikes. They were my age.
I had to admit that my own less-than-elastic cover was showing signs of age too. Plus a couple of wrinkled pages and a slight bending of the spine. And although I’ve never been attacked by chipmunks, a couple of times life has sunk some pretty sharp teeth into me.
I’ve always adored the pristine feel and hot-off-the-press smell of brand new publications – their black ink, white pages, glossy color jackets. Who can resist them, displayed seductively on the end caps at Barnes and Noble? They tease, springing closed when you open them; they refuse to be broken and flattened into obedience.
But these old books lay open with ease. My father, an avid reader, had left his mark with dog-eared pages, scribbled notes and an occasional coffee cup stain. The books reminded me of myself – not flashy but comfortable, and okay, a bit worn out by my loved ones.
Many titles in the boxed-up library were time-honored classics. Others were considered radical at the time my father bought them. For instance, there was a work by sixties pop guru, Marshall McLuhan. There he was, way back in 1963, boldly stating, "The medium is the message.” His words now seemed prophetic – newly relevant and groovy again in our World Wide Web age. Four decades of maturity actually buffed up his book’s content, giving it a youthful luster of credibility.
It was fascinating to flip through well-read pages of history: a text written in 1955 about the state of public education, hardcover essays on ties between modern art and communism, and a coffee table edition with playful photographs of the current White House occupants – the Kennedy kids. With the passage of time, these old, out-of-date books held new born interest.
So what about my own aging content? It certainly has evolved over the long haul, but some ideas have held fast throughout a half-century of life. My values have been validated – time-tested and time-honored. And I’m sticking to them.
Living through countless eras and events – telephone party lines, flower power, school air raid drills, Kent State, the King assassination and the Nixon resignation – has taught me a thing or two. Looking to the past, I find lessons I can use today. Have my years on the planet made me more interesting …wiser perhaps? I hope so. I know I’m adding colorful pages daily to my already hefty volume of global, local and family scrapbook memories.
Lately though, my life reads more like a novel. The trouble is, I can’t quite get a handle on the plot. Here I am, more than halfway through and the main characters’ roles have suddenly shifted. The pacing seems off too.
In my younger years, I lived life the Evelyn Wood Way. Now, at middle-age, I’m making a conscious effort to read my days more slowly. I underline important passages, appreciating the details and trying to understand my life story within a broader context. Sometimes I long to go back and start reading again from the beginning, or to at least re-read my favorite chapters.
The sentence structure of my life is changing as well, right down to the punctuation. My once dependable, definitive period has become an ambiguous and unruly semi-colon, unexpectedly interrupting my paragraphs. I have a vague sense of subject/verb disagreement and when I look in the mirror, I can see that my participles are dangling. But at this stage of the game, I’m ready to challenge such arbitrary rules of grammar.
Somehow, going through my father’s chipmunk-pillaged books gave me hope. My bookshelves were already crammed full with publication dates of Generation X and Y age. But I sorted through and weeded out my personal library in order to make room for my father’s baby-boomer treasures.
All of my beloved books now commingle comfortably, pressing their leathery flesh and sharing space – the shiny with the subtle, the modern with the mature. Each one holds a sacred place, because out-of-print does not necessarily mean out-of-style.
I made sure to keep several chipmunk-chewed favorites too. Just to remind myself that no book is perfect.