Friday, November 25, 2011

Books, with a side of reheated green bean casserole

Thanksgiving got me thinking about things I'm thankful for (I'm nothing if not original), but I was too busy proving my gratitude for copious amounts of food and wine to write this post yesterday. So here it goes . . . the day-after-Thanksgiving post that would really have been more appropriate yesterday but you're getting it today so go make a turkey sandwich and simmer down.

I'm thankful for the usual things, of course: my dogs, who let me put sweaters on them; my husband, who just smiles and hugs me when I say something crazy; my family, who let me know they miss me without guilt-tripping me for moving across the country . . .

The list goes on and on, but this is a book blog (or at least it's trying to be, bless its heart), so I'll narrow it down to these delights of typesetting ingenuity.

One of my favorite things about books, besides the stories they tell in their pages, is the way certain books can embody moments in your life . . . or even connect you to the former owner.

I'm a casual book collector. I like to find a couple of beautiful used books every time I visit a new place, so I have a lot that remind me of happy vacations and new experiences. But three in particular hold more meaning for me than the others.

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (1943, Random House)

Complete with creepy cover illustrations
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time, and my paperback copy is battered and highlighted and riddled with sticky notes. Wuthering Heights is, meh (sorry, other Brontë sister). But my vintage copies of these two books have a prime spot on my desk. They remind me that people can be surprising . . . and not just in a bad way.

I had a summer internship on the copy desk of The Buffalo News during my senior year in J-school. One of my slots (aka rulers of the copy editor peons) was . . . well, a little difficult. He messed with my headlines just enough that they weren't mine anymore. He patronized me. He did many things I interpreted as thinly veiled disdain.

Our only civil conversation came about because he learned I was studying English lit. He had also double-majored in journalism and English lit, and we had a delightful talk about George Eliot (isn't she just delightful?). On my last day at the paper, he presented me with these vintage copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. He didn't buy them for me; he took them from his personal collection. I had spent that whole summer thinking he hated me, and I can't look at these books now without getting warm fuzzies . . . and the urge to read George Eliot.

Wood engraving of Heathcliff being all tragic and broody

Polly, a New Fashioned Girl (1910, New York Book Company)

I have no idea what this book is about. I'm terrified to read it for two reasons: (1) It appears to be part of a series called "Our Girls Books" (enough said), and (2) I'm fairly certain it would fall apart in my hands.

Now, I have mixed feelings about keeping books I never intend to read. It seems like a crime. I mean, if I were a book, I would want to be the paperback copy of Gone With the Wind that gets reread at least once a year. But I digress.

I found this book in a moldy box in my grandparents' attic. We were going through their house in Coral, Michigan (the same house where my grandpa ran his barbershop for 20 years and where my mom and her four siblings grew up), preparing for the estate sale following my grandpa's death. Everyone was feeling depressed and angry that their memories were about to be sold to the highest bidder. But we were all together. I had traveled from California, my mom and brother from Florida, aunts and uncles and cousins from various parts of Michigan.

We sat in the yard and went through black-and-white photos, putting faces to the names we had heard over the years. One of those names was Geneva Sickafoose, my great-grandmother who was allegedly part Native American. Now, imagine what a miraculous revelation it is for a very (very, very) white girl to find that she might be part Indian. Ever since the day I learned that little tidbitprobably sometime during elementary schoolI have treasured the knowledge that my lineage isn't just German German German and more German. I loved my Great-Grandma Sickafoose even though I knew nothing about her except her name (which is pretty awesome all by itself).

Then, at the age of 25, I found this book. Written in pencil on the inside cover, in the tentative cursive of a young girl: "This Book is the Property of Geneva Sickafoose, South Whitley, Indiana."

Yes, I'm thankful for books.

**UPDATE (and correction): I am forever getting confused about my ancestry. I have just relearned (because I already knew it) that Geneva Sickafoose was my great-grandma (just one great, not two as previously reported). In my defense, I am incredibly forgetful and was also quite full and sleepy from eating Thanksgiving leftovers at the time of the original post. Now my journalistic integrity is restored. I'm so relieved. Also, I found a picture of said Geneva Sickafoose standing with her husband, William, on their wedding day. I don't know, guys . . . she looks pretty white to me.**

They are super excited to be married, clearly.


  1. I've built up my only grandparent I never met, my grandmother, to the point that anything of hers I find, I treasure, so I get your great-great-grandmother thing (y'know, to a point). I have some of my grandmother's schoolbooks from the '30s with her notes scribbled in them and they made me happy. Also Sickafoose is a craazy name. Exciting.

    Wuthering Heights sucks but that IS a good edition. :D

  2. I wonder if changing my name to Sickafoose and referring to my dogs as my spirit animals would be taking it too far...

  3. Why have I not seen those books? I must soon. Agreed that Wuthering Heights is shitty, but I'd still love to check that one out. Well the first half of it is, meh, then the second half is... well the second half is the first half again. Stupid book.

  4. Nah, Wuthering Heights rocks.

    That is so cool -- your great-great grandmother's signature as a child!! What a find!

  5. I'll reread Wuthering Heights if you read Outlander. ; )