By JOHN PAUL CARTER
The floor-to-ceiling bookcases in our master-bedroom are running over with volumes of Texana (both history and fiction) – the result of my earlier unchecked appetite for just one more book about Texas. As if that were not enough, every other room in our house also has its share of my collection.
Henry Ward Beecher believed that it was the duty of parents to surround their children with books. “A home without books,” he wrote, “is like a room without windows.” By that standard I’ve been living for most of my life in houses with more windows than walls.
Depending on how you look at it, I have my mother to blame or thank for my love of books. Some of my earliest memories are of her reading to me from the Bible and a ten volume set of children’s stories entitled “My Book House.” Even now when I thumb through those familiar pages, I am filled with wonder and a sense of her presence.
When I was ten years old, my mother was employed by the Baptist Book Store in Dallas to establish and promote libraries in Texas churches. For the next 20 years, books and reading were her passion. Because I was an only child and my father traveled, I assumed the role of her assistant and traveling companion. That’s how reading became my pastime and books my playmates and friends.
What an enriching and diverse group of companions have been mine over the years through reading: Humpty Dumpty, Casey Jones, Pecos Bill, The Hardy Boys, David, Luke, John Bunyan, Henri Nouwen, Kahlil Gibran, Robert Frost, J. Frank Dobie, John Steinbeck, and Wendell Berry - to mention just a few! Even now late at night, I stop by our book cases to make new friends and renew old acquaintances. And when we travel, I always take a satchel full of books.
I still love my books but things are changing in my life and in the wider world. It’s time for us to down-size and simplify. Carole hasn’t given me a specific number, but reason says I can only keep a few books. Besides, e-books seem to be the wave of the future – but not for me. My anticipatory grief has already begun!
A paraphrased verse from Ecclesiastes helps to console me: “For everything there is a season…a time to gather books together and a time to find those books another good home.” But my main consolation is in knowing that the treasures of their pages have found a permanent home in my heart and mind and will nourish me for the rest of my journey, and perhaps beyond.
Assessing the many good gifts that parents give their children, few are better than the ability to read and a love for books. Reading kindles the imagination and opens us to wider worlds. Well-written books not only enlighten and entertain, they also teach us how to better understand and express our own thoughts and feelings.
When it comes to my inheritance, I agree with the poet Strickland Gillilan’s conclusion: “Richer than I, you can never be; I had a Mother who read to me.” On this special day when we honor our mothers, I again give thanks for Bessie, the book-lady, who was my mother…and for your mother, too.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.