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.
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.
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.
“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.