Treasured Friends

I bade a sad farewell to some treasured old friends a little while ago.

I learned that a local bookstore owner would pay me fifty cents a copy for all my old books, which he would then re-sell to his customers to realize a small profit.

Like you, perhaps, I have purchased a large number of books over the years, both hard- and soft-cover varieties.  They’ve all been read once—some much more often—and those I wanted to keep were placed lovingly in one of several bookcases.  But, as we downsized to a smaller home, the day arrived when there was just no more room.

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Being one to whom books are almost living things, I couldn’t bear the thought of packing them away in musty cartons for storage, out of sight and soon forgotten.  Somehow, though, it seemed alright to pass them along to others who would enjoy them as I had.  So, over a number of weeks, I carried out the task of sorting and packing more than three hundred-and-eighty books.

I had acquired the habit years ago of writing my name and the year when the book came into my possession on the inside front cover of each one I read.  How delightful it was to browse them once again, as I sorted, lingering over memories associated with those many years.

There was a boxed set of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, Lord of the Rings, a gift from my brother in 1960; a biography of John Kennedy and a copy of the Warren Commission Report of 1965, when the shooting in Dallas was still a recent shock; several novels in a series about a modern-day knight-errant named Travis McGee—the first purchased in 1966 and its successors as each was subsequently published; a number of biographical works from the late 1970’s about such notables as Churchill, MacArthur, Lee and Jackson, and Trudeau (the elder); a Civil War story, After the Glory, perhaps my favourite novel; and, of course, dozens of others.

There were titles of a more recent vintage, too:  thrillers from such writers as Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, and Lee Child; more biographies of famous and infamous people—Ghandi, Mandela, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Jimmy Carter, Terry Fox; histories of significant events in my lifetime, dealing with the aftermath of the Great War, the great depression, the fall of Soviet communism, the rise of the Beatles, and the future impacts of technology.

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I had determined to be ruthless in my sorting, adamant about packing everything, unyielding in my determination to move all of them out.  Inevitably, however, there were some I had to keep (including the eight I’ve published, of course).  I’ve never been resolute about being resolute!

Anyway, in due course, I was finished.  Ten cardboard cartons, each the repository of hundreds of hours of private enjoyment, sat waiting for me to take them to the bookstore.  But I, despite my earlier resolve, was plagued by a great sense of loss, a sense of having betrayed a trust, a sense of abandoning something that had become a part of me.

And so, they sat for awhile—those cartons echoing with silent, accusatory voices of so many old friends—awaiting my decision as to their fate.

After several restless nights, plagued by remorse, I hit upon an idea.  An old pal of mine owns a cottage near Parry Sound, one unencumbered by the modern notion that such getaways must have access to the internet, telephones, and television.  Solitary pursuits are the order of the day in his idyllic retreat, and I gave him a call.

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“How’d you like to meet some new friends?” I asked him.  “They’d love to come and stay at the lake, and I know you’ll like them.”

It took some further explaining, naturally, but he came by the next time he was heading north, and we loaded the cartons into his SUV.  As he pulled away, I bowed my head, placed a hand over my heart, and mouthed a sad goodbye to those treasured old friends.  Dramatic, I know, but heartfelt.

However, I was greatly comforted by knowing I’ll be able to say hello to them all again and again each time I visit.  It brought an old ditty to mind—

Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other gold.

Alphabet Soup

Some of my friends are devotees of alphabet soup.  Not the kind they eat, mind you, but the sort that litters the space following their names.

They pattern themselves, perhaps, after Sir Winston Churchill, wartime leader of Great Britain, whose alphabet soup looked something like this:  KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, FRS, Hon. RA.  These stand for, respectively: Knight of the Garter, Order of Merit, Companion of Honour, Territorial Decoration, Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Royal Academician.

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Grand titles all, redolent of Empire, conquest, and victory.  And I have no doubt there were others he could have added.

My friends’ titles, of course, are somewhat more modest.  Not for them the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Order of Canada (OC), Royal Victorian Order (GCVO), or other such high-falutin’ honours.  Theirs are somewhat more pedestrian, though all respectable and praiseworthy.

Unfortunately, I can’t lay claim to any of them.

My brother, for instance, followed his name with UELD, denoting United Empire Loyalist Descendant.  Loyalists were people living in the original Thirteen Colonies when the American Revolution separated them from England.  Many fled to what is now Canada, loyal to the Crown, and my brother believed himself descended from them.

If he’s right, I, too, must be one.  However, a loyalist to the British was a scurrilous traitor to the Americans, so, with a nod to my many years of residence in the U.S. during Canadian winters, I have eschewed using the designation.

A close friend includes CSPWC behind his name—member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour.  Unlike some, this is an appellation that must be earned, not merely tacked on.  Membership is bestowed only upon artists whose submitted works are judged worthy by a distinguished jury of their peers, and many who aspire to it fall short.

That’s because the primary criterion is talent, of which I am in scant supply.  My watercolour experiences began and ended with mixing Kool-Aid.

Several of my friends hold academic honours, the most distinguished of which is a Ph. D, Doctor of Philosophy.  Another holds an Ed. D, Doctor of Education, and I even know one person who can boast an LL. D, Doctor of Laws, although she is not a practicing lawyer.  A number of others merit M.A. after their names, Master of Arts, or M.Sc., Master of Science.  And a whole passel has earned the right to display B.A., Bachelor of Arts, and B.Sc., Bachelor of Science, on their letterheads.

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More than a few of these learned folks graduated either cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude, Latin for “with honour”, “with great honour”, and “with highest honour”.  The latter is generally reserved for students who graduate with a perfect academic record.  I can’t imagine such a thing!  On a provincial math exam many years ago, I scored a derisory 11%—probably for spelling my name correctly.

My paltry post-nominals, were I to use them, would be B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) and B.A. (Hons).  The abbreviation in parentheses would be justified only because I submitted a full thesis prior to graduation.  As for honours, I should probably include summa cum fortuna, “with the greatest of luck”.  When you compare my credentials to those of my friends, you can see why I generally choose not to sprinkle addenda after my signature.

Mind you, once upon a time there were two such acronyms I could rightfully claim.  I held an OTC, Ontario Teacher’s Certificate, during my working career, and was entitled to use OCT, Member of the Ontario College of Teachers, until my retirement.  I never printed these on my letterhead, however, since my ‘clients’ were children in an elementary school classroom.  They already knew I was the teacher!

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I flatter myself in one regard, though, by positioning myself alongside the aforementioned Winston Churchill.  We are, both of us, writers—men of letters, articulate and erudite, authors of several published works.  Our titles reside (perhaps not side-by-side, but equivalently) in the files of the Library of Congress.  I like to think the biggest difference between us is that, while he wrote non-fiction, I stick to making up stories.

That doesn’t make him a truth-teller and me a fantasist, of course; after all, much of his work was the writing of history, a genre known for notorious exercises in revisionism.  Unlike many historians, I don’t alter the facts; I merely invent them.

As for honours, forget for a moment that Churchill won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, whereas I did not.  That was not a fair competition for I was but ten years old at the time, still struggling to master cursive writing.

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I am much older now, but it would appear my own Nobel Prize is still likely some way off in the future.  Way, way off, some would say.

In any event, there is one post-nominal you’ll see me proudly using if you ever receive one of my calling cards.  After my name, boldly printed on the front, is the singular word author.

That will have to do.  I hate alphabet soup!