Thursday, June 11, 2015


I am sitting in my office this eve of my middle son's 7th birthday, wrapping his gifts and sipping red wine.  While in the midst of trying to neatly encase odd-shaped packages in "happy birthday" paper my eyes are drawn to the bookshelves.  My office is filled with basically, the shadows of my past. College text books, scrap books, and old photographs, worn novels and nick-nacks.

Perhaps it is the nostalgia I feel with Evan turning seven, or  maybe it is the wine, but for whatever reason I decide to take a closer look.

First the text book.  I was a Child & Family Studies Major. I purchased the book used, so it was already weathered and time has done it no favors. The Fifth Edition Human Development, written by Diane E. Papalia and Sally Wendkos Olds.  As I page through I see the yellow and orange highlights, the scribbles in the margins, the chapter headings: Pieaget's Cognitive Structures, Abraham Maslow: Self Actualization and the Hierarchy of Needs, Stages of  Childbirth, Pschosexual Theory: Sigmund Freud, Development of Social Speech, I can't help but find it humorous that I studied, wrote papers and was tested on these topics, 13 years before I would become a mother. I wonder if I should read the text again, but notice that the book sites studies from the early 80's and conclude that it is now very much outdated.  I try to recall what I took from reading this text at 19 years old. I realize at the time, it was read with the goal of achievement, to memorize the content with little thought of how I could relate to the material.  I have concluded that we finish higher education at much too young an age.

Next I see The Norton Anthology of Poetry. The works of William Butler Yates, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, and more.  Frantic notes in the margins- could mean God? directionless, mourning? And in some unknown's scribe: "I love Kelli"  Trying so hard to make sense of these complex beautifully composed pieces, words that fit together, but the meaning alluded me. Perhaps it was because I had not yet lived enough to grasp the author's intent. One poem in particular grabs me. Highlighted in pink and underlined:
When You Are Old 
William Butler Yeats 

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true, 
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars. 

I am not sure why I am drawn to this poem today. Perhaps it's that I feel my life accelerating forward to the old and gray, and I wonder, what I may see through my own eyes with shadows deep. 

Then I move on to Illusions,: The Adventures of  a Reluctant Messiah, a short self-help sort of book I received just before leaving my home town of Madison, WI, to join my boyfriend in Minneapolis. It was a gift from a male friend who may or may not have had a secret crush on me. The inscription on the inside reads: Oct, 1997 To Rachel, to help guide you on your journeys. Keep it, or pass it on. Love, (we will leave him anonymous)  I read it, and I kept it. And the sad truth is I don't remember one damn part of that book. It was supposed to be life-changing and I have no damn clue what it is about.  But I remember the intent with which it was gifted to me, an adolescent angst and romantic view of the world or "journey" that lied ahead.   It was a sweet gift, and though I have long since lost touch with the person who gave it to me, I will hold on to it, remembering how touched I was to receive it. 

Next a beat up 1996 edition of Let's Go USA. Pre Google, Yelp, Expedia... I had a book. A book now worn and tattered that came with me on every road trip adventure. It was the bible. It guided me through New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California.  There are campgrounds and hotels underlined, check marks next to the hostiles I had contacted. It brings back so many memories, memories that would now be lost to an internet search. 

Then there is a copy of Memories of a Geisha Girl which I read cover to cover in two days on a beach in the Dominican Republic, There is my college diploma, a copy of Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, one of the worst books I was ever forced to write a paper on, a guide to Portugal where I spent my honeymoon, Canine Colorado (purchased when my dog was my only baby), a People Magazine dated September 24, 2001, the smoking Twin Towers on the cover. and a funny stone frog a friend brought me back from a vacation. There are pregnancy books, of course plenty of photo albums, birthday cards from years past, and yes, even my cat's ashes.   

As I sit here, I notice that these bookshelves represent so much of my life, my development who I was, and perhaps a glimpse of who I will someday become. I have some empty shelves left and I wonder what will fill them, and if in twenty years, I will look back at the contents and smile.