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Monday, 14 March 2011

Permanent Spring Cleaning

My paternal grandmother is currently in the process of moving into sheltered accommodation. My thoughts on the matter are quite redundant but, suffice to say, I'm getting quite emotional as we gradually clear the house of things she can't take with her. I've been blessed with two huge boxes of my late grandfather's books, of which he had a great selection. I've discarded some of the duplicates - including five versions of Shakespeare's sonnets and three copies of To The Lighthouse - but mostly I decided to hang onto a load of old books I'll probably never read. Sentimentality? Maybe. But I'd rather have them than not.

Several years ago we were in this situation with my maternal grandmother. The big difference in that case was that she wasn't able to help us move her out so it was completely hit and miss about what was saved and what wasn't. I hold a great deal of guilt for not managing to save several things I know she would've loved to keep in her final months, such as her late husband's WWII bag. She'd shown me it several times over the years. It smelled like hell but it was a fundamental part of him, one of the few things she had left.

Another item was a typed manuscript that she brought out of a drawer one day. Apparently my grandfather (who died before I was born) had written this story and sent it off somewhere. It was rejected and, from what I can gather, he didn't try again. It sat in a drawer, misplacing pages over the years, until it was purged from the house as we cleared it out. Two of my biggest regrets? That I didn't save it and, more damningly, that I never took the time to read it. Yes, that's right, I never read it.

Something evidently put me off at the time, whether it was the fact that several pages close to the beginning were missing or maybe that the premise of a cowboy story didn't really appeal to a teenage girl. It could've been more fundamental than that: perhaps I didn't want to judge a man I hadn't met on his literary merit and risk coming up with bad conclusions.

However, I regret it massively today. You should grab every piece of your heritage you can, even if it seems unimportant at the time. That's why I've filched the two boxes of books - I'm well aware there are likely to be notes in the margins and newspaper clippings slotted in at the front. I'm looking for a history, something to give me some sense of belonging in a family I feel distanced from.

Perhaps this just reeks of sentimentality. But it's something I feel I need to do.


Annie said...

These are always such difficult decisions to make and ultimately whatever you decide is likely to bring with it an element of regret. When my mother was in the same situation we were lucky in as much as she did it in several stages, from a house to a flat to sheltered accommodation to a nursing home and we could filter a little at a time. I hope you find a great many marginalia in your collection that help you to come to know your family better. I think we undervalue the practice of writing in books.

CharmedLassie said...

Me too. The idea of passing down books for generations to read and maybe add to is something we've almost lost with the cheapness of books and Internet discussions. We've gained an awful lot but some things I wish we hadn't left behind.