a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dad's Encyclopedias

 A complete set of Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia (new in the 1980s, anyway), purchased one volume at a time from the grocery store, sits on the bookshelf at my father’s house.  I pass by this shelf countless times during each visit to his house on a lake in Indiana.  His new house.  His “Dad and Jane” house.  Not a house I ever called home. 

I wonder what Dad sees when he looks at those books.  I know he doesn’t see the towering display of encyclopedias that Mom, Rebecca, and I were giddy with joy over each week.  He was never with us to see that tower. 

I know he doesn’t pull the volumes off the shelf and touch the gilded golden edges of the pages.  I know he doesn’t choose random letters and flip open to random pages just to find out what he might land on each time.   I know he doesn’t run his hand down the spine of the books just to feel the bump of the decorative ridge. 

I suspect that instead, he has memories of the encyclopedias that I don’t share.  He might remember packing them as we moved from house to house over the years.  He might remember purchasing new cherry wood bookshelves to showcase the set of volumes.  He might admire the regal look of the complete set on the shelves.

His history of the encyclopedias is much different than the history I own.  

Part of me is comforted by the familiarity of those golden spines all lined up neatly.  Part of me resents their position amongst artifacts from a past I never knew—a past that belongs to someone else.  

I get tangled in this conflict every time I see my Dad.  I do not get caught up in mourning over my parents’ divorce.  It is not resentment of Jane, or his new life with her, that ensnares me.  No.  It is the way my Dad’s memory of the past does not match my own memory of the past that trips me up every time. 


  1. Wow. Wow--big time. This is extremely well-written. The emotion of it is so powerful, and you've captured it with such an aching, honest style. I love reading your work and can't wait to read more.

  2. I second Ruth's comment. So powerful and well written. The details, the memory. Thank you for all your writing this month! Amazing!

  3. You have taken the kind of thought that flickers in the back of the mind and really teased it out and made it more that a dust bunny - very nice.
    And thank you for being a fellow slicer this month, I have enjoyed your writing very much.

  4. I am finally finishing reading almost all of the posts and yours digs deeper than most. Perhaps you are finding some answers whose questions have been lurking around for a long time? Perhaps it's those little things that park inside ourselves & don't arise for a long time? I guess we'll really never find out those answers, but it looks like those encyclopedias mean so much to you, really represent so much. Your writing buzzed with feeling in this post. We had that same set of books, & my feelings with the books are just of the past, how different things were then, compared to now. But with your memories, maybe it's because of lost time shared, not that he didn't ever use them, but that he was less there to be with you. As you can see, I was touched. Thank you!

  5. Christy--beautifully written. I think you excel at writing that knife-edge of emotion that can really fuel the fire on a good piece of reflection.

    My kids and I went through a divorce (they were ages 3 through 11) and I know it left lasting scars and some bitter memories. I wonder if they, too, look at some tangible item and see much more than I do. We landed on our feet after that upheaval, when I married Dave, who was the one who righted out little family. Two years after we were married, we bought our own set of Encyclopedias for the family. And yet, when the youngest was 25 and no one wanted our set, we sent it off to the Goodwill--a bittersweet moment for me, certainly.

    But nothing like yours. Powerful writing--thanks for all your great comments on my blog and for being my new FB friend!

    Elizabeth E.

  6. This is a beautiful, emotional piece of writing. You possess great voice and I can't wait to read more!
    Happy Writing