Monday, March 04, 2002

A shroud of dust.
The bookshelves were utilitarian - simple but sturdy. They had been moved quite a few times, but this last move was the longest and perhaps their last. Soon the wall in the downstairs hallway was lined with them. Then came the crates of books, closed little treasure-boxes for avid readers like me and my husband. We opened the first impatiently, ignoring the hunger after an afternoon of putting up shelves.

The first books were put in place with delight, a feeling of adventure: "look, this boks contains the complete history by Grimberg, look here, I had forgotten about this book, I read it when I was in junior high, that's something we should recommend for the kids!" Then slowly we touched on different kinds of books. A crate of travel guides to places he had never been able to go. Books connected to research he had planned to indulge in after he retired from administrating his department and became an emeritus. Books we had as well, that we remembered buying for him, or having as presents from him, sharing the pleasure of reading.

Soon we were putting the books in place in silence. To me, the dust of the books was a shroud containing the loss of the only father-figure who had understood what I was doing. For my husband, this was more intense. He became lost in the process of putting up the books. His elegant hands caressed each book before he put it in place. Some of them he paused to read, murmuring about when and why this book was bought and kept. When I wanted to put in a couple of crates of comics we needed to store somewhere available, he had to turn his back, the desecration of those shelves more than he could watch. As hunger finally drove us away from the books he was quiet. The next morning he had to go back and continue as soon as he could.

This almost became an obsession with my gentle, easygoing husband. After we had cleared enough room in the basement that we could get on with the work we had planned doing, he was still carrying crates and sorting through the books. The shelves are full now. They are stuffed with prayer-books from 1798, outdated and heavily slanted nationalistic historic works from 1920, instructions in the use of punchcards in quantitative research from 1960, cook-books from 1940, and novels from all genres and periods from around 1915, when his grandfather had built the house his father had been born in, and up until today.

The books smell of dust, and the hallway is narrow and dark where they loom well above our heads, but to my husband they are his past, containing all the best memories of a man who's lost to us. Sooner or later we will have to move some of the books, split them up and mix them with our own, not just with the glaringly misplaced comics. I suspect it will be later. Perhaps I'll put in a reading lamp in the hallway, and a chair. There are a lot of memories never written down, but still stored with the dust between those pages.

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