When I was a child, growing up in Fairfield Connecticut, I was always surprised by the fact that my Father, who was a voracious reader and amateur historian, only had one bookcase full of books. And those books, for the most part, were rather uninteresting, and I rarely saw him read them. Instead, he went to the library and borrowed books. His reading universe became unlimited.
Often, he read the classics, Plato, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Tacitus. Though a metallurgical engineer by trade, he seemed to be looking for answers to the rise and fall of the ancient Greek and Roman empires. He seemed to want to understand how the were World Wars came about. It seemed to me he was looking for the and understanding of the forces that caused one nation to try to impose its will on another. But, as the books came and went regularly, and he only discussed his ideas when asked, I was unable to form any meaningful understanding of just what motivated this quest.
I, on the other hand, spent a good deal of my childhood being ‘sent to my room’ (this was before the concept of ‘grounding’ became accepted). My Mother, it seemed, took offense at just about everything I did, so I quickly found an alternative in the books I found in my room — in the headstands of the twin beds there, full of the Farley and other horse books — that I realized that just about any negative set of circumstances could be significantly improved by turning one’s attention away from the problem and into a book! The library soon became my haven, and I regularly read a book a day. Eventually I began to purchase books that I loved, and so my personal library began, and has continued to this day.
However, during the days when I was a single parent raising my three incredible children I worried about my Father and his lack of books. By now my parents had left Connecticut for Flemington, New Jersey. Their beautiful new home contained — you guessed it — only one bookcase. Then I discovered the “Classics Club” — tan volumes with a red band and gold-embossed titles across the top. I was delighted. I decided I would save up and give my father these books, one at a time. So, for birthdays and Christmas, and at other times as well, I would budget and purchase one of these books and send them to him. I loved the thought that he would not have to think about borrowing them again. As my Father later became ill, and then passed away, it comforted me to think that he had copies of these volumes at his fingertips.
And so these Classics Club volumes stayed on the bookshelf in the Flemington house, until my Mother decided to move. She asked me what of theirs I wanted. Of course, I said, “The Books!” Oh no, I was told, they needed to be sold at auction, along with many other items considered to be of value. To me those rather insignificant-looking books were not of much worldly value, but they were, in their way, irreplaceable. No matter — off they went.
I spent such a long time feeling discouraged by this set of circumstances that I can hardly recall when I first had the bright idea of tracking down other copies of the Classics Club books. And so I did, hunting them down in used bookstores and on Ebay, and putting them right near the living room window, at the top of one of my bookshelves, so that the sun hit them first thing in the morning. Gradually, I added onto this collection. And then, quite by chance, my Gardner cousin Mark (not from my Father’s McElwain side) came to my house one day and said, “I have the exact same set of books. I’m going to be moving. I’ll give them to you!” And so he did, and now I have had to move some of my Mozart books down a shelf to make room for all of the Classics Club volumes. Thank you, Mark. 🙂