Dusty, Old, and Wonderful: Part One

They sit and gather dust year after year. They are boxed and moved every time the family relocates. Occasionally, I bring myself to rid the shelf of a few of them. I tell myself, “I can garage sale this; I can donate this; I will not miss this.”

The problem is that ridding my life of these items is like throwing away a chunk of my identity. They are who I am. Sometimes I am real; often I am fantasy!

I am a book person — I have always been a book person. From the moment my mother read The Poky Little Puppy to me for the first time, I was hooked. I was hooked as I read Mandy to my pet fish. I was hooked when my older brother sent me a volume of Dylan Thomas I was much too young to understand. Throwing out a book I once enjoyed or studied or wrote about is like throwing away a trophy I strove long and hard to earn.

So, my favorites stay. There is the 18th-century novel, Tristram Shandy, a book of which precious few have ever heard. Ah, but they quote it unawares.  There are my complete sets of Shakespeare, Pat Conroy, Robertson Davies, and Aphra Behn. Two shelves of poetry, two double shelves of middle-grade novels, a shelf of history books, sit quietly knowing that they are loved even if they haven’t been read in twenty years.

Alas, there are also those that, until now, had never been completed. They gaze at me longingly from their dusty nooks on the bookshelf and call to me, “Read me next. Read me next.”

I walk by and think, “I should. I really should. I’m just not sure I like you.”

Then they sulk.

So, I decided: Before I buy any more books, I will read these forlorn little volumes. Then, maybe, I will be able to throw them away. Gasp!

I started with The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. This book of over 700 tedious and detailed pages was assigned to me by Mr. Goss my junior year of high school for an Advanced Placement American History class. I did not read it. None of my classmates read it. As far as we were concerned, it was the Least and the Dullest and not worthy of our time. I did not pass that particular AP test. I’m not sure if I kept the book because I felt guilty or because it haunted me as an incomplete task or just because I was too lazy to throw it out, but that book stayed with me for thirty years!

I started reading it again when my son was taking the same class his junior year of high school. I told him, proudly, that I was going to finish it. He said, “Oh , is that about Kennedy’s cabinet?”

I replied, “I hate you, my dear son. Why are you so educated and smart?”

He shrugged. I read, and read, and read, and read. I think it might have taken me a year to finish. It was still boring. I still don’t understand all the intricacies of the United States’ entry into the Vietnam “Conflict”. I cannot for the life of me remember the names and dates and significance of all those brilliant minds in the Kennedy administration and the events that changed the nation. Maybe I am just not a history person.

This book, however, did shed some light on my own personal history. I am an enigma. Born in 1965, I am not quite a Baby Boomer and not quite a  Gen-Xer. I am the youngest of six children born to a World War II veteran, who was a Navy Corpsman in the Pacific, and a Cadet Nurse who had worked as a telegraph operator on an Air Force base. They lived the war, they sacrificed for the war, and they loved their country.

My older brothers, the true Baby Boomers were opposed to our involvement in Vietnam. They protested, they evaded, they worried my mother, and they pissed off my dad!  As a child, I never understood the fights even midst the deep love between my siblings and my father. I did not understand my mother’s tears, my brothers’ songs, or my father’s disappointment. Even as I matured into an adult and learned more about government and war, I was never quite sure which side I was on.

Having read this detailed book, I am still not sure what I think. I know more now; I know more about egos, back-room deals, and differences of opinion. I see a little better why my brothers were so opposed to the war and why my father was so sad that his sons did not seem to want to protect their country. This was a situation that could not have been resolved, as one generation let go of the ideals of the past and a third looked on in wonder.

At any rate, I finally accomplished this task, and I am happy that I did. My son did not read this book, but he did study hard. I doubt he has an opinion on the legality and necessity of this military action; his generation is too far removed from the struggles and are now focused on a different kind of war. But at least he passed the AP exam!  And I finished something dusty, old, and wonderful! Up next: Pale Fire!

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