Every couple of months or so, my husband, Mike D will get a request from my mother-in-law to help clear some things out of the house. Each project seems daunting, and we can only imagine how much more daunting it must be for her, Mama D, whose awareness grows daily that she’s living in a house full of things – things that need to move out, and move on. So we commit some time to help her chip away at it. It’s too much for her to do on her own, after all. Not to mention the stuff more than likely isn’t hers. It’s a bit of an undertaking every time, where decisions have to be made about sentimental belongings, and the time cleaning and sorting becomes a lot of time going down memory lane. As much as we drag our feet around facing these de-cluttering demonstrations, we end up enjoying it, getting stuff done, and relishing in the sense of accomplishment and alleviation it brings.
A couple weekends ago we took on the project of Steve D’s books. My father-in-law was man who really loved to read. Mysteries, spy novels, non-fiction, classic literature, travel guidebooks, humor, language books, history; not to mention the hard-core volumes of law — they all colored the book shelves of his office, the body of his intellect, the far corners of his imagination, and the swirling momentum of his curiosity. He was a smart guy. Bookish, yes, but he loved the life that reading gave him, and longed to exemplify the same gusto and passion that books inspired in him in his every day life, just as a dad, a husband, and a guy who loved to learn.
As we divided the book collection into “keep” and “donate” bins, we got to spend some time with Steve D. again; Mama D and Mike would remember interests he’d picked up here and there, his tireless pursuit of foreign language and world travel, his quirky sense of humor and love of clever word-usage. It was incredibly sweet to watch my husband’s face as a book he held in his hand to consider keeping brought a memory over him.
I admit, I don’t have many personal memories with Steve D. The moments I shared with him, I feel odd to say, were the kind between a man and his son’s new girlfriend — still getting to know each other, and unsure, under the circumstances, if building a new friendship was the best use of such precious, little time he had. I think a lot of who I’ve come to know and love as my late father-in-law is the guy I hear stories about; the husband he was to Mama D, the friend whose love and loyalty we benefit from in continued relationships with his peers and former colleagues… of course, the dad my husband drops anecdotes about on the reg, and misses daily. I imagine he had as ridiculous a sense of humor as both his sons, had all kinds of old-timey, hilarious expressions, and could skillfully use a pun to demonstrate incredible intellect as well as severe silliness. I’ve gotten to learn he has a wonderful sensitivity about him that’s nurturing to others, and for himself, allows him to be a dreamer.
“Dreamer” might not have been a word used to describe Steve D very often; certainly not as he sat on the bench in his courtroom, or when he was standing in front of a college classroom lecturing about family law. But those closest to him knew that this was a big part of who he was. And this was something that I could identify with.
As I rifled through his books, I didn’t have any memories of my own of Steve D, just my imagination of him. I felt a kinship ignited by the treasure trove of vintage book covers. Cover art that clearly reflected a style of a certain era brought me to think of a teenage or college-age Steve D, indulging in Julius Caesar, getting lost in Dickens… immersed in mysteries written in French and engulfed in 007 espionage. It’s like he and I were getting to spend some time together. After having very limited time to bond with him while he was alive, I was finally connecting with him, and not just hearing about him through other people. We were bonding as I escaped in the cover art of the same stories he found escape with in reading.
It wasn’t as long of a project as we thought it might be, sorting through books, packing up boxes, and uncovering memories Mama D and Mike associated with different titles. Memories about Steve D reading up on how to build a totem pole, or how he’d talked of wanting to write a book of his own someday. We ended up with a good amount of books to give away, to feed the minds of other hungry readers out there. And, of course, had a few boxes of books to cherish as pieces of Steve D. Books whose beautiful binding and cover illustrations we would study and admire, imagining that he’d done the same at some point a long time ago. Books we might someday read to feel like we were sharing an experience with him.
I started this blog post excited about sharing some cool, vintage book covers… talking about color and style, maybe talk about the evocation of characters and themes in the aesthetic choices made by the cover artist… cool, creative stuff like that. Just wanted to put it out there to spark some inspiration (Go ahead — look at the pics! I mean, they’re still really cool book covers, and I’m totally in love with their look and feel). I guess these book covers did inspire me, after all, to tell a story about the books’ owner, and how, by their look, feel, scent and content, can transport and connect us through our imaginations and affections. Gotta love an unexpected ending.