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One of the things I love most about thrift stores and estate sales is that they're a bit of a scavenger hunt in that you never know what you'll find. I try to be respectful of my newly-found treasures as they had meaning to their previous owners, carrying the weight of memories that I'll never understand. This morning, Walt and I shopped at a local sale, successfully finding shovels, rakes, and an office chair. Typically, we sweep through one round for the things we actually need, then a second round for those things we didn't know we needed. We were successful there too. As we were checking out, I noticed a well-worn book by the register. Not being able to pass up a book, I picked it up. Diana (the woman conducting the sale) noted "that was one of the only things that survived their house fire," and with that, the book changed. No longer just bound pages, it had a story to tell.

The book isn't a classic. In fact, it's just an anthology of poems and essays edited by Ralph L. Woods and published by MacMillan, NY in 1943. What caught my eye was that the singed pages had been cleaned, the binding had been reinforced, and the spine taped by the owner in an attempt to extend it's life. Inside is a hand-written inscription:

"This book is a special book in the lives of the Madison T. Downing family--one of the few rescued from a fire in the Deerfield family home on the day in March of '47 when we brought Lana home from the hospital."

I turned the page and scanned the Foreword, something I rarely do, and found that this anthology had been a labor of love. Ralph's brother David shared that Ralph was an "omnivorous reader who, when he came across things he liked very much, he cut them out and pasted them in scrapbooks. His clippings were of prose and poetry, public documents and private pleas, writing cosmical and comical, philosophy and fable--in fact, anything that he found and liked for any reason under the sun." This anthology contains the most favorite of Ralph's clippings.

I have two things to add in closing: the first is the last paragraph in the Foreword, written by John Kieran, with a hand-written notation by the book's owner (assumably one of the Downings) and the statement: "rather ironic." It reads as follows:

"A final warning. When not in use, this volume should be kept in a cool dry place, well away from draperies, loose papers, and other inflammable material. It is apparent that the contents are an exciting mixture, possibly explosive."

The second is that the book will be traveling with me on my 4,500 mile journey to the west coast and home in May. More on that in the next blog post. Till then, a note to the Downings and to Mr. Kieran that maybe there's a reason the book and I found one another. It's a good reminder that some of the most fragile things have the most powerful stories to tell.

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Mad Rox
Mad Rox
Mar 01

I loved this story, and what a very interesting find that book is!

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I have to wonder if the book didn't find me 😘 I plan to post something every day. Sometimes a painting or sketch, sometimes one of the essays or poems in the book. Sometimes, I'll just write.

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