Harwich, Massachusetts, August 29, 1954
What to take, what to take? Susan Leary was frantically looking around her small cottage trying to decide what treasured possessions to put in the car. A storm was coming. A big storm potentially that the authorities were naming ‘Carol’. It had been two years since Susan made the move from Boston to Harwich, having accepted a teaching job after her father’s passing. The Cape was beautiful during the summer and it was relaxing being near the ocean. It had been a good decision on her part to take a job away from the city, but oh those Cape Cod winters! Cold, bleak and empty save for the rest of the full time residents. Still she wanted a challenge, and being a 28 year old teacher living on her own in a small town most of the year (until the summer vacationers started pouring in) was a good fit. If she had stayed in Boston, people in the neighborhood would have no doubt started murmuring about being 28 and unmarried. Perhaps they did in Harwich too, but after suffering so much loss in her life, she frankly could care less. Everything had changed since the war. What she did was her own business.
In some ways she was ready for a fresh start after her father had passed away. The nightmare of selling the house and most of its contents had worn her out. Most of the furniture she sold outright, keeping a few pieces with her to Harwich. Of course she kept a lot of old photographs of the family in happier times, and some odd trinkets here and there. The porcelain tea set, a pearl necklace that had been her mom’s favorite, but not much more in truth. Something about having lived through the war years made her more frugal about possessions. All the government sponsored drives for the war effort had done that. She recalled the scrap metal drives, and calls to conserve everything from rubber to paper. All for the war effort. The one thing from the house that she kept complete were the books. Most she had not read yet, though she was making progress with them on those cold Cape Cod winters. Some were her brother’s books, the ones she had seen her father perusing that night years before. Others had belonged to her father, some going back to his youth. Dusty, delicate volumes that he had always kept in a particular order, which she had done her best to replicate in her cottage. She remembered how many boxes they had all needed to get them here. But she knew that deep down, the books were what her father would have wanted her to keep.
Now confronted with a potential severe storm she suddenly worried about what to take. She packed her suitcases full to bursting. Forgoing the summer clothes, she thought it better to pack some warmer clothes in case this thing really does some damage. Always practical our Susan, Jimmy Sr used to boast when she was younger. Pots and pans and other kitchen materials seemed useless to pack up, though she did delicately pack the porcelain tea set in among some of her clothes, along with the necklace and some of those other trinkets. But the books-what to take, what to take? There were way too many of them to save. Of course all this fuss about the storm could be for nothing and I’ll be back here in two days she thought, but still, just in case I better keep some. Without looking to see which particular volumes she was grabbing, she reached for the series of Dickens novels first, then some Shakespeare, then the Mark Twain. She felt if I’m going to save anything, it should at least be from some of the masters. She grabbed some photo albums too, but she felt the need to scan the large bookshelf for one particular book, hoping its green color would be easy to spot among all the others.
While she was scanning the titles, she thought back once more of her father. About all that he had endured the last years of his life. Though he had the occasional good day after the war ended, in truth he was defeated by the loss of his wife and their son. Susan had tried her best to cheer him up of course, taking him out as much as she could. A walk in the park, a ballgame. Whatever kept him from pondering too much. The other thing that seemed to help were books. And from that book she had given to him on that birthday in 1945, she now always made sure to write an inscription in each successive one. Even though she had not read anything in that particular book herself, she regarded it as just as important as the pile of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens now stacked on the floor and ready to be packed in the car. It represented a new tradition, one that had kept her father going before his passing. The photo albums and trinkets were physical mementoes of her family. Things they touched. Things that were real. You kept things like that because you were expected to. That inscribed book she had given him was more than that though. It was a memento of his imagination, and she wanted that for her own.
The sirens and car horns in the typically quiet town of Harwich intruded on her reflection however. Time to go. She stepped back from the case and scanned left to right, one shelf at a time. For one brief moment she worried it had gone missing in the moving, but towards the bottom, she saw the green spine and without hesitating, grabbed it and placed it with the others. In half an hour the car was packed and along with 20,000 other residents of Cape Cod, she made her way inland towards Boston to stay with some friends. She had taken as much as she possibly could…
Part 1 of The Book… can be found here
Robert P. Doyle
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