Who can pass up the opportunity to buy an old book? You know the kind of book I’m talking about. The books with that smell. The smell of history and days long past. I’ve smelled this book about 5 times while I’m trying to describe its smell. (I’ll be picking book worms from my nose for days.) Really the smell of the book is nostalgic and happy for me. I have always adored antique shops and old buildings. Okay, I’m not an antiquer but I do LOVE the thrill of looking for treasures in Antique Stores and Thrift Stores. I generally don’t buy things… but I touch as much as possible. I love the smell of books and day dreaming about the items-on-the-shelves in their past lives. I mean, who can resist imagining who drinks from the glass drinking cups with orange mushrooms painted on them. Now before you think of me walking through stores everyday smelling used clothes, know that I don’t do this often and that is not what this post is about.
A few years back, when we lived in Texas, I went to an Estate Sale down the street from our house. Imagine all the day dreams I had in those dearly departed sales. I think of people fondly while I’m wondering through their earthly possessions that were left behind. I think of them living in their houses using the items in their kitchens or wearing the clothing left in the closets. In my thoughts, people are always happy and healthy with rosy cheeks. And then there are their books. The people must have spent hours sitting under a dimly lit lamp reading mounds and mounds of old hard back books. Possibly they were smoking an evening cigarette with a scotch-on-the-rocks nightcap. I love to look at the books left behind.
On that specific date that I’m thinking of, I ran across a copy of “The Magic of Shirley Jackson” that was printed in 1965/1966.
Come back with me to that day and see the book with me. There the book was in a pile of various other books. Those other titles I can’t remember and the other treasure seekers hadn’t seen it yet. But that book with its faded blue binding and golden letters grabbed my attention. I picked the book up and allowed its yellow jagged pages to fall open in my hand. I flipped through the old pages and then turned back to the front. I read through the Table-Of-Contents and saw THE LOTTERY. I wasn’t an avid reader at that time but I wondered if that was the story about that town that killed one of their people once a year based on a lottery. I flipped to The Lottery and scanned the story. It was THAT story.
I couldn’t return that book to the pile. I handed over my few bucks and walked out with my prize.
I sat down to read “The Lottery” out loud to my kids. While I was waiting on them to come sit down on the couch, I read through the Preface. The preface was written by her husband and it was after her young death. She passed away when she, in my opinion, was in her writing prime at 47 years old. In the Preface, the husband writes fondly about his wife and her accomplishments. He defends her honor and her reputation. He displays an ideal love from a husband post-mortem.
Reading words from a husband that admired his wife was worth my few bucks, but what really got me was what he wrote in the first few lines.
“People often expressed surprise at the difference between Shirley Jackson’s appearance and manner, and the violent and terrifying nature of her fiction. Thus many of the obituaries played up the contrast between a “motherly-looking” woman, gentle and humorous, and that “chillingly horrifying short story “The Lottery”… it seemed to surprise people that the author of her grim and disturbing fiction should be a wife and a mother at all, let alone a gay and apparently happy one.”
When my eyes devoured those words, the lights came on. A bridge was built from “I don’t write” to “I could be a writer one day”. The walls of “I CAN’T” were torn down by the PREFACE of a book. Talk about making your words count! This guy nailed it. My way of thinking was profoundly changed at that moment and I knew it. My identity changed. For the first time in my life, any title I had placed over my life was torn down. Not only could I be a happy mother, a grateful wife, but one day I too could be a writer.