A History of Civilization second edition, volume two, read the worn red cover. The book had been in a box of books that I'm ashamed to admit has been sitting on my bedroom floor for the two years since my grandfather died, but I just had lacked the emotional fortitude to deal with it. This morning BigDaddyFish made me sit and go through it, because he was tired of tripping over it on the way to the bathroom in the dark. There were myriad treasures in it: an old nature book with beautiful pictures of flowers and birds that Sunny has adopted and spent hours poring through and drawing her own versions of her favorites; a book of the rules of baseball from the 1940s; my great-aunt's (who raised my grandmother as her own) bible, with her name and the year 1936 written in pen on the first page. BDF had saved a couple of history books he wanted, and that left this red book, clearly an old college textbook, and at first I was perplexed why I'd saved an old history text. Then I opened it.
On the third page, in the upper right-hand corner, were the words "Mary Lee Exxxxxxxx, Newell Hall 227, 823-9667" written in blue ink in my mother's hand. I ran my fingers lightly over the words as the tears welled and my heart clenched. I caught a sob in my throat and had to put the book down, overcome. BDF took the book from me as I let the wave wash through me and then pass.
"This is a GREAT book!" he enthused, flipping through the pages, showing me passages my mother had highlighted, a page where she'd written "Exam" in red and and run a line down the middle of a page. "Can I read it?"
"After I'm done with it." I nodded.
I took the book back, flipping through it, scanning the pages for the passages my mother thought important. "Between 1715 and 1789 the commercial revolution was the most mature of the three." The three what? "Meantime, the improvement of charts and the installation of lighthouses and buoys made navigation safer." Good to know. I noticed that the front half of the book was rather heavily marked, the last half marks appeared rather sparse. Was this one of the courses she dropped when she dropped out of school to marry my dad? Or had she, like her daughter after her, tended to lose interest and discipline as the semester wore on? Questions for a woman I never knew, questions that will forever be unanswered.
I slipped the book onto one of the bookshelves in my room, where it will remain for my children to put in a box for two years after I'm gone, until they themselves will puzzle over what their mother was doing with a marked-up history text from a course at Towson State University for a school year a handful of years before she was born.