The irony of it all is that I was planning to watch a movie that night. When neither Mom or I found anything we were too interested in just then, I remembered a promise I had made to a friend that she could “borrow” (in reality, have) a paperback edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve owned several over the years and don’t need this one, so I was happy to pass it on. The only thing was that I knew it to be in one of the many boxes in my closet.
Storage space is at a premium in our house and my closet contains only a few shirts and a jacket or two (mostly what little formal wear I have); the rest is boxes of stuff. Mostly, of course, books. Just a few weeks ago I had braved the dust to see if an old book I was looking for was in one of the boxes. I gave up the half-hearted search partway through. This time, though, would be different. I would try to find what I wanted, and hopefully what my friend wanted as well.
I expected it wouldn’t take too long. Just a question of finding the right box. In the end the search occupied a good portion of the evening. Or to be more precise, the search was interrupted over and over again by another new discovery. Pirates in the days of yore would take the gold and jewels they had looted in their travels, return to a secret hideaway that only they knew of, and bury their treasure to come back for it later. I had gone looking for books. What I found was the treasure I had forgotten was buried.
The chests are made of cardboard not wood, and what is inside them might be more or less valueless to anyone else, but to me it’s worth more than a whole ton of Spanish doubloons. In the aftermath of the digging, sneezing occasionally from the dust, I looked around at the spread of booty and realized that it did a pretty good job of tracing my early life.
Here in this box are wooden toys I don’t really remember playing with; in another is a pile of picture books with the first versions I ever heard of stories about Abraham and Moses and Jesus.
Yet another box holds other picture books, more secular but no less sacred: The Velveteen Rabbit, and I wonder if the pages still have that musty yet somehow pleasant odour. And there’s Christopher Wants A Party, which I remember notably for the giant foldout picture of the magical “amusement park” tea tray where Christopher and his friends played, each level of the tea tray a different environment of adventure and fun.
I stumble across some of my first chapter novels, a series called The Boxcar Children. It stars orphaned siblings who leave their nomadic lifestyle of living in train boxcars to live with an older couple (their grandparents…?) and solve mysteries. Mysteries never really left me; in another box I find a couple of books featuring that youthful sleuth Encyclopedia Brown.
A quick peek at another fondly remembered treasure: books about The Magic School Bus as the class learned about outer space and the human body and other wonders of the universe. I never owned too many of the books, since the after school daycare I was in at the time had a healthy supply of them. And there was also the animated TV series on PBS.
From somewhere I pull out a book bound in blue imitation leather. The title is stamped on the cover and spine in gold letters. This is the first real Bible I ever owned, with all of the words and none of the cheesy illustrations.
I also find myself catching up with long-ago birthday gifts. A novel from my uncle called The Man From The Creeks about the Klondike gold rush and inspired by Robert Service’s poetry. Now that I actually know who Robert Service is, I’m interested in checking it out. Then there’s the mysterious slim volume once handed to me by my mother. It has no dust jacket and only the word “Shatterworld” along the spine. With no cover blurb or synopsis, I can only assume this is the title. 162 pages. I have always loved mysteries, though the temptation to look up the solution on Amazon is strong. Please don’t tell me anything about it if you know what it is.
Speaking of mysteries, in the whole time I was searching I only found one box containing books about Sherlock Holmes; none of them were the edition I was planning to give to my friend. That was when I remembered another edition that I was certain I still had — in the back of a dresser drawer and not the closet full of boxes. All that work for something I could have retrieved in 30 seconds.
But you’d be mistaken to think that it was time wasted. Like I said, I rediscovered treasure I barely knew I had. And I did find the other thing I was looking for. A set of official blueprints for the USS Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, along with a book of shooting scripts from the same show. My teenage years were spent as an apprentice geek. (Since then I have of course graduated to full professional status.)
Recently I started wondering about buying an e-reader of some kind. There’s a book I want to re-read but it’s really quite large and heavy and a digital version would be a tad more convenient to carry on the daily commute. Going through those boxes again, however, makes me shrug off the notion completely. No e-reader, in fact nothing whatsoever to do with the digital world that I can think of, would give me the experience I’ve just had. Our world of disposable convenience doesn’t seem like it’s planning ahead for nights spent searching through childhoods.
I repacked the closet. It was somewhat easier after Mom took out some of the things she had been keeping in there. I went through each box, occasionally pulling out a book for immediate study, and sorting the rest in order of priority. Worlds and stories I want to revisit sooner rather than later have gone near the front of the closet for easier access. I buried the treasure again, and this time I intend to go back for it before too long.
It turned out to be a lot more fun than a movie.