My house is filled with knotty pine and lots of built-in cabinets and shelves. Along one short wall of the living room, I always wanted even more shelves, for books.
After my husband Don died, I had a lot of reactions, as you can imagine, but as far as the house went, I made changes. I painted one long wall and one short wall of the living room yellow. I got new ceiling lights in the kitchen lights. I bought a palm sander and re-did two doorways. I bought a pole with a claw on the end to reach high things. And I had a graduate student who was in love with me build floor to ceiling shelves along the wall where I always wanted them and we had never gotten around to putting up.
Fast forward ten years. The shelves ended too short, they were not flush with the wall but stopped about 2 ½ feet shy. So, this time, I asked the man I’ve been living with for the past five years to add on to them. And he did, beautifully, in one afternoon.
And then it was left to me to re-organize the shelves, find at least one liquor-sized box to throw away. The reason I’m writing about it was this: I only had those shelves ten years and going through the books was like going through a lifetime.
Don’s books were still there—fly fishing in the Adirondacks, trout streams on Pennsylvania, Native American Indians of New Jersey, A River Runs Through It. Ten years later I still couldn’t throw them away. Like his wallet, which still sits on the other side of the shelves, the ones that were always there, in the same spot he’d put it every day.
So many books are simply no longer necessary, things no one would ever use for reference, “A Student’s Dictionary;” “Reader’s Digest How-to-do Anything Guide;” “An Alphabetical Guide to Herbs for Good Health.” It seemed amazing—as charming as boot scrapers at the stairs of old homes, gas lamp fixtures on the walls of our third floor. I could hardly imagine looking up the definition of the spelling of a word in a book, even though I lived most of my life that way.
As I pulled some books down, photos that had been put in-between books fluttered to the floor: my best friend’s baby as she was delivered via C-section; my son at 3 or 4, posing astride his uncle’s Harley; my daughters at age 6 and 8, with their arms around each other and their heads thrown back, laughing.
At times, it was almost too much. I thought I was just cleaning and instead I was revisiting so much of my life…
I ended up giving two liquor boxes worth away, plus another handful, though I don’t know who will want the dictionary. I took a photo of the newborn baby and sent it as a text to my friend, just so should be rocking with memories too. I still couldn’t give away Don’s books; they’re on the new shelves. I put the found photos of my kids in frames, also on the shelves, and resolved to reorganize in another ten years.