Our house is filled with books. Despite giving away probably thousands of them over the years, we still have thousands left. We’ve accumulated them from all sorts of places: bookstores, yard sales, library sales, gifts, giveaways. You name it, if there’s a book involved, count us in! We’ve even converted our living room into a sort of library. You know, if you can’t beat them…
So, as a result of this, we often find books we didn’t know that we had. A few weeks ago I was looking for something to read. Why I do this when I have a two foot tall TBR pile on my nightstand is one of the mysteries of the universe. At any rate, I reached into the bookshelf and pulled out a slim volume I didn’t recall seeing before. It was titled “O To Be A Dragon” by Marianne Moore. Where had this come from? Had I picked it up somewhere and never read it?
I opened the front page and saw an inscription:
Well, that was unexpected!
Margaret Beeghly was my mother. Known as Midge, she was 17 when Marianne Moore wrote this. I have no idea who gave my mother this book–who took the time to have it inscribed for her. What did the inscription “her dragon” mean anyway? Why was it written to “Margaret” and not to “Midge”? My mother died 40 years ago, but somewhere along the way I had picked up this book and carried it with me. How had I moved it from place to place, house to house without ever noticing it before?
The most amazing thing to me is that this is not an isolated event. I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. Just this past weekend a cousin e-mailed, saying she’d unearthed some old newsletters that my mother had written along with some of her cousins in 1955. My mom, who would have been 13 at the time, apparently authored a column called “Mumble Jumble.” My cousin wanted to confirm my address so she could send copies along to me, and I’m still eagerly waiting for them to arrive.
Last winter, out of the blue, a friend of my mother’s sent me a bundle of letters she’d been saving, along with some pictures of my mother. Most of the letters had been written by my mother shortly before she died, and others were written by my grandmother to this friend shortly after my mother died. It’s the oddest thing to unexpectedly get new windows into someone’s life through the years. To read words that she’d written decades ago. It’s both unsettling and comforting.
Turning back to the book, I opened it to a random page and read this poem:
I May, I Might, I Must
If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.
At the time, with the start of yet another unsettled school year dominating my mind, I read this poem as a pretty relevant message with a can-do attitude.That’s how I finished the draft of this post that I wrote on Sunday. But I wasn’t happy with the ending.
This morning I woke up and realized that the heart of what I wanted to write about wasn’t so much the book as it was about the reappearance of so many things relating to my mother over the years, and especially recently. I revised to add the additional information about the newsletter and the letters. That felt better.
Then, as I reread this post and the poem, before publishing, I had a sudden startling thought. This time as I read the poem, my mother was at the forefront of my mind, and it was her voice I heard as I read it. My interpretation shifted dramatically. Maybe there’s a pattern in all of this. It feels a bit far-out, but perhaps the re-emergence of these items through the years isn’t so random after all. Perhaps it’s my mom’s way of crossing what “appears impassable”, of reaching out across “the fen”.
True or not, I find a great deal of comfort in that thought.