Friday, June 24, 2011
THE BOOK ROOM
In the summer of 1971, after my second year at the University of Tennessee, I had decided not to work for the summer and instead embark upon a hitchhiking odyssey throughout the United States to visit the places of my past.
It was mid-June. I was at the end of the first week of my travels when I found myself at the Greyhound bus station in Morgantown, West Virginia. My last ride had dropped me there at my request. I did not want to alarm my grandparents by letting them know I was hitchhiking and preferred to let them presume that I had arrived on this surprise visit by bus. They didn't know I was coming, but seemed glad that I was there. My grandfather rushed over to pick me up.
They lived in a three story house on Wilson Avenue which was in South Park, a neighborhood of similar homes crammed closely together. The house that my grandparents lived in had been built in 1906. I had often visited there as a very young child and had so many wonderful memories. Then, after moving to San Diego and later to Northern Indiana, the visits had become rare. Now, returning as an adult, it felt like a homecoming.
My grandmother showed me to the bedroom where I would be staying. She told me that this had been my mother's room when she had lived there. My mother's family had moved to the house in the forties when she was in high school and she stayed there until she got married in 1950.
I first noted the large windows overlooking the avenue below and the large houses across the street. But then upon entering the room a new wonder greeted me. The entirety of one wall was a built-in bookcase. It was a wondrous sight even if it wasn't completely filled with books. I was going to be here a week. I knew what I would be doing much of the time.
My fingers ran across the book spines as I perused the titles. There was an eclectic assortment of books here. Since I had recently changed my college major from psychology to English, I decided to begin with William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. I had read some Faulkner short stories in high school and was well aware of the prestige of this author. My first choice for my summer reading proved to be a good one.
With its large windows affording a comfortable breeze and ample natural lighting, the bedroom was an ideal reading room. When I wanted a change of surroundings I would go to the large front porch where there was a porch swing where I could read between distractions of passing traffic or strolling neighbors. This was small town America at its finest.
After I finished The Sound and the Fury I read a couple more books that were in the shelves before noticing some books on a fireplace mantle of another bedroom. Curious, I browsed this small collection of books until I was drawn to a small, but elegant little volume with the peculiar title Intra Muros. I immediately decided that this would be the next book that I would read. Since it was short, I would finish it quickly.
The story captivated me. It was the author's purported vision of heaven while suffering near death from an illness. The account was beautifully written in a haunting way. I don't remember if I looked at the edition date, but I did take note of the author, Rebecca Ruter Springer, and I wrote the book title and author's name in the journal I was keeping so I would remember it later. This was a book that I wanted for my own library.
The time spent that week with my grandparents was wonderful. My grandfather, who was a city councilman and knew many people, took me around with him and introduced me to many people I've long forgotten. My grandmother fixed me wonderful breakfasts that we would eat at the kitchen table while listening to the swap and sell show on the local radio station. The childhood memories flooded back to me and made Morgantown a real place experienced in adulthood. The Book Room--my refuge of reading--was the peaceful retreat that added that extra special of magic to my week at my grandparents' house.
My grandfather died the following January--dropped dead at a city council meeting. My grandmother eventually sold the house and most everything in it. I don't know what happened to the book that I coveted so. After I returned home from my odyssey, I went to a book store to find a copy of Intra Muros. It was out of print.
For the next three decades I would periodically ask at bookstores about the book. It was now a relic of the past. However, after I had succumbed to the lure of the internet and began exploring, I eventually found that Intra Muros was now back in print under the less ambiguous name My Dream of Heaven. I ordered it. It was every bit as good as I had remembered. As I read I was taken back to the Book Room in my grandparents' house in Morgantown, West Virginia. Dreams come in many forms.
Intra Muros: My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer
What book do you uniquely remember? Have you ever searched high and low for a book that has gone out of print?