Sitting on the cool basement floor, legs splayed on the blue linoleum squares, my knees hold the cover of a large colorful book. I lean against the boxy yellow bookcase that holds childrens books when I am not bent over examining a picture or outlining the shapes of words with my small fingers. Mom is doing laundry in the back room, the basement door opened to let in the breeze. Blossoms from the apple tree float down the concrete stairwell, itself the location of many games. The breeze smells sweet, the jalousy windows have been turned open letting in the air and the occasional noise of a passing car or people walking past the house or birds calling to each other. My thick 'mink blonde' hair is held back from my face with a barette. I wear pale cordouroys and a pink cardigan with pearl like buttons. Mom has tied the laces of my black and white oxfords securely so I don't trip. The oversized childrens books have been well used by the time I get to treasure them. There are crayon scribblings from older siblings, and many which I myself have added. We don't think of this as desecrating a book, no, it is much more like being part of the book, part of the story that the books tell. They make their mark on us and we return the favor.
My grandfather's collection are housed in the more serious bookcases. I touch the paper wraps on the hard covered books, the smooth feel of heavy paper, triangles bent and yellowed where they have caught on a table, or been jostled in the carrying, seem to my young mind to give these books a weight of seriousness, an entry into a world bigger than my basement library, bigger than my backyard covered in fallen blossoms, bigger than the smell of fresh laundry on clothesline that looks like a tree in yard. For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the collected works of Poe, Dickens and Shakespeare are some of the titles that intrigue me. I plan to read these works someday when I am big like Mom and Dad.
On its own table sits the king of books: an ancient Oxford Dictionary. The inside of the leather cover is done up in a faded paisley and the pages have been swept with gold paint on the edges re-iterating the importance of this formidable work. Through the years I open this book with great curiosity, with a sense of stepping into a large and brilliant world where ideas are born and lives are shaped. From time to time I would retreat to the basement with a blue fountain pen and a marbled notebook and copy words and definitions of words from that great book. Being left handed, I felt pride at the ubiquitous blue stain on my pinky, because, well, because that was witness to my love of words and writing them.
I never met the grandfather whose books now lined the basement of our house. But I learned something of him through stories. He was printer, an editor, a writer, a speaker, and of course, a reader. He obviously loved books because this is the treasure we inherited from him. This is his legacy to me, a fellow lover of words, of the texture and smell and sight of books, of the way words sound on the tongue and their history, their evolution through the languages of humanity.