A Book of Generations
Last winter while helping my mother clean her attic, I came across an old trunk filled with family heirlooms. Inside the trunk, I found a quilt that my grandmother had made, teeth that my brother and I had lost as children, drawings from grade school, and newspaper clippings about all the loved ones
who had passed over the years. Shuffled between the pictures and the obituaries I noticed the tattered old binding of a book. I lifted it out and immediately recognized it from my childhood. Within seconds, I was seven again and nestled beside my mother’s warm, young body while she read aloud the passages inside. I was suddenly aware of how quickly time was passing by; this book that I once fell asleep to looked old and worn, the binding unraveling from its light cardboard cover.
The title of the book was not catchy, like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It was simple and pure, “Young American”. The old book wasn’t an erotic romance, a riveting vampire tale, or a celebrity memoir. Instead, it was a mere reflection of the times in which it was written. “Young American” is over 100 years old. It is a collection of poems about life in a time when it was still and quiet. A time when life was slower,
and “Autumn Days” were so enjoyed that they inspired the title of one of the 42 poems inside the book. It was a time when “The Newspaper Boy”
delivered on horseback, and the mere delivery of his paper compelled him to write a poem about it. “What Mother Sings” compares the riches of motherhood to that of a queen wrapped in gold and silver, and “Kiss Me Quick” tells about a mother stealing her child’s kiss before he grows too old. “Young American” captured a world when life was simple, a time before cell phones, iPods, and reality television.
Long ago “Young American” had belonged to my grandmother. Her mother gave it to her when she was in the first grade. My grandmother’s name,
Iola Moe, is still inscribed on the inside of the back cover. This book was her favorite and traveled with her throughout her life. It lived on a shelf in her house, saw her through the birth of five children, moved from Michigan to Maryland, and was read to my mother when she was a young girl. I think of the many years it sat in my grandmother’s home, soaking in all the conversations and words of my ancestors. The book watched my own mother grow. It watched her become a wife and a mother. Three generations of women had owned this book. I thought of my mother’s hands as she had once turned
these very same pages. Back then, they were soft and smooth and unlike now, they were free of the crippling arthritis that plagues her. I remembered a time when I could recite the poems inside, and together, my mom and I would recite the rhyming words of “Sunrise” and “Flowers are Springing”. At a young age, poetry had moved me; perhaps “Young American” was responsible for the filled box of poems that now sat inside my closet. Perhaps it was the reason why I was now an author with a completed novel. After all, you never know where the seeds get sowed.
That cold winter’s day, I sat there in the attic holding the book that I fondly remembered. I felt the faded cover in my hand. I smelled the musty reams, and searched the yellow, tattered pages, and I felt warm inside, the kind of warm you feel when you pass by the house you once grew up in or the school you attended as a child. If only for a few minutes, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. I wished that the book could talk. I wish it could tell me all the secrets that I will never know. As I drove home that day and opened the door to my house full of children, I felt thankful for my life and my family. I was more aware of the passing of time, and I vowed to spend even more time with the ones I love. As I lifted my bag from the car, I found the book inside and knew my mother had placed it there. It would now come to sit on my shelf and soak in all the conversations and stories of my life. Four generations of women from my family had come to love this book. I read it to my eight-year-old son that night.
In the spring of that same year, I received a phone call from my father. My mom had had a stroke. I rushed to the hospital as fast as I could. But when I got there, I saw that she had lost a lot of her memory. She couldn’t remember the names of my children; she barely remembered mine. She had forgotten my birthday and all the incredible memories we had made together. I sat in my car and cried. The doctors told us that we should work with her as much as we could, and hopefully her memory would come back to her. So I rushed off to an education store and bought every flash card available, and we worked with her around the clock. On the third day of my visit, I brought “Young American” with me. Just as my mother had done with me so many years of my life,
I sat beside her, her warm body against mine, and read the passages inside. Thankfully, she recovered fully.
When I think of “Young American” now, I can’t help but think of my own children and the technology that surrounds them. While I myself enjoy the conveniences technology has brought us, there is nothing as sweet as holding a book that has been passed down through four generations. My family heirloom now sits proudly on the shelf inside my china cabinet, and every time I pass by it, I smile. I hope the generations to come will feel the same.
Kim McConkey is the mother of four boys, four cats and one “hot dog” named Kara. She’s been married for 21 years to her “Lova” and Irish soulmate, Kelly. When she’s not writing, she’s researching future projects, enjoying her son’s sports, and managing her husband’s political campaign. Kim likes to write stories that tug at readers’ heart strings and stories that will make you laugh and see life in a different way.
For more information about Kim please visit her web site.
Love / Hate is the spot for raves or rants on any book or reading related topic. Submit yours here.
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..
Although Debbie De Louise has been a librarian and avid ..