I feel a strong connection to books and the many libraries and bookstores filled with shelves brimming with books, books, and more books. When I was a child, I devoured picture books—Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" and "Green Eggs and Ham," were among my favorites, as well as a large, weathered copy of "The Real Mother Goose" with illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. I read them over and over again. The magical words and pictures opened my mind and took me on journeys to other worlds. They were my companions when my two older siblings and my mother weren't entertaining me.
As I grew older, I graduated to other authors and titles. I read Judy Bloom's "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret," at a pivotal time in my life, as I faced the many challenges and changes associated with puberty. I read Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a young adult and saw myself on the pages of her masterful literary work. The book still brings me to tears.
So when I read Dorothy "Dot" McCrory's keepsake story, I got it—I instantly got it. In fact, I stand in solidarity with her because she, too, found joy and bliss in the many pages of books at a young age.
Today, I'm posting Dot's story, "The Book" in its entirety. It's short and sweet, and the ending will make you smile. I hope you love it as much as I do. From page 66...
When I was an elementary student at Wayne Street School in Lewistown, Pennsylvania in the mid 1940s, I happened upon a treasure trove—not buried treasure, mind you, but nevertheless treasure for which I had to dig.
I was in third or fourth grade, and it was the last day of school. Teachers began to cleanup their rooms, and as the final bell rang to dismiss us for the summer, I lagged behind and asked my teacher, “What is happening to those books in that box there?”
“Those are discards,” she said. “Books that can’t be used anymore, so we throw them away.”
Incredulous, I asked, “Throw them away!?”
“Oh, yes. Books get worn out and after they’ve been rebound once, we have to get ready for new books that will come in over the summer, so we throw the old ones away.”
“May I have some of them?” I asked.
“Well, not now. I have to go to a teachers’ meeting, but come back in the morning and you can take what you want.”
Needless to say, the following day, I was up and dressed and out the door before I could even answer my grandmother’s question, “School? On the first day of your vacation?”
When I got there, the doors and windows were open, the janitor was mopping, desks were stacked, teachers were dressed in old clothes. But none of that made an impression on me when I saw the boxes of old books sitting outside each room. Br’er Rabbit to the briar patch. My, my, my! An unbelievable bliss descended over me. If there were buckets of gold, chests filled with jewels, or mountains of dollar bills, nothing could compare to the treasure I saw before me.
“Yes,” the teachers said, “Take what you want.”
With my arms laden with booty, I made several trips to carry my treasures the three blocks to my house. And wonder of wonders—I found notebooks with unused pages in them and pencils—dozens of pencils. I was set for the summer and then some.
The foray into digging for buried treasure was just the beginning. Every year thereafter, I went back to school the day after the last day, and dug in the boxes to add to my growing library.
All my finds were great, but I found the most significant book the day after the last day of my freshman year. I collected a Geometry book and a Latin II book that year with the intention of getting a leg-up on my sophomore year. That good intention went away when I found a book called simply American Literature. Published in 1933 (the year I was born) and accessed by Lewistown High School in 1936, American Literature began with the Mayflower Compact and went into the twentieth century.
Poetry, essays, plays, biographies, stories, and documents. I fell in love. I was seduced. There was no way to escape. I met Dickinson, Millay, Teasdale, Poe, Whitman, Whittier, Harte, Alcott, Emerson, Lanier, Lowell (James Russell and Amy), Crane, Sandburg, Kilmer. Not content, however, just to read the poems, I memorized them. Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant, The Mountain Whippoorwill by Stephen Vincent Benet, Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-Hearted by Christopher Morley, I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger, and on and on. No Latin II or Geometry entered my head that summer. I wallowed in the written word. Shameless, like a wanton hussy, I gave myself to this book called American Literature.
That was 1947, over fifty years ago, and where is that book? Right beside me as I write this story. When I left Lewistown in 1951 to move to New York City to attend college, the book went with me. When I moved to New Jersey to teach, so too, moved the book. When I joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, the book was stationed there, too. And when I settled in Dalton, Georgia in 1963, the book settled, too.
In many ways, the book shaped my life. I know I can trace my love of literature to what I discovered between its frayed and tattered covers. When I am cremated at my life’s end, I ask that some kind soul slip the book along with me to the crematorium, then the book and I, so long inseparable, will be inseparable forever.
—Dot McCrory, Project Keepsake
We need more books in the world, folks. And we need to read to our children more. And we need to encourage our young readers more. And we need to turn off our electronics more and simply lose ourselves in stories. What do you think? And do you still have a book from your childhood? If so, which one and why?
My mission is to help people tell the stories that matter—the stories that need to be preserved for future generations. I've helped hundreds of people (young and old, professional writers and newbies) write stories about keepsakes. Pick up your pen and start writing today!
Still not sure how to do it? Browse the Project Keepsake blog and read a few excerpts or order your own copy of Project Keepsake today (free shipping). And thanks for stopping by!