WRITTEN BY JOHN R. GREENWOOD PHOTOS PROVIDED
It was a typical Saturday morning and I was putting the finishing touches on a replacement window I never finished trimming out. I finally decided this was the day to tackle that adventure. These are the simple projects I enjoy but tend to procrastinate over until guilt grabs me by the nape-of-the-neck and gives me a shake. I’m also easily distracted by shiny objects. Today that shiny object was a vintage book on a shelf next to the naked replacement window I’d orphaned weeks before. What I noticed as I was wiping caulk from my forehead was an old book my grandfather had given me back in 1963 when I was 8 years-old. I was still standing on the stepladder with the caulking gun tucked under one arm when I reached over to the top shelf of the bookcase and pulled out the 1894 book. The book, “The Cave in The Mountain” was written by Lieutenant R.H. Jayne. Google politely informed me, as I was taking my first coffee break (just minutes into my project) that the Lieutenant’s real name was Edward Sylvester Ellis. Ellis wrote under dozens of pseudonyms including Lieutenant R.H. Jayne. He was one of the more successful writers of dime novels during the 1800s. It is said that one of his books, “Seth Jones” was one of President Lincoln’s favorite stories.
The real shiny part is what I re-discovered inside the front cover of the century-old book. There I find an inscription from a Kathren Davis gifting the book to my grandfather in 1913 on his 14th birthday. Fifty years later he handed the book to me. I remember spending that day helping him around their home on East Avenue here in Saratoga Springs. Those were my Hardy Boys book reading days. “The Cave in The Mountain” was my grandfather’s 1913 equal, to my 1963 Hardy Boys Mysteries. I’m sure he gave me the book that day with his own boyhood memories swirling in his head. I hadn’t opened the book in years, but now that I had, it brought back chapters of cherished time spent with my grandfather. Having grandsons of my own now gave that inscription a special feel. The velocity at which the years being a grandson and being a grandfather took place, inspired me to write this piece.
On the page opposite the inscription there was a newspaper clipping of his birthday party’s guest list. The party took place on Putman Ave., Fonda. I wondered if during my life, I’d crossed the paths of any of the descendants on that list. I opened the book once more—randomly, and there on page 29, this passage from the Lord Byron poem, “Darkness” caught my eye.
“The world was void:
The populous and powerful was a lump, Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless; A lump of death, a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean, all stood still, And nothing stirred within their silent depths.”
I read it over and suddenly realized I was watching a current version of the evening news. Fighting, violence and discord were running rampant. I stopped to catch my breath. I’d gotten all this from one little re-visit to an old book given to a young boy, once, twice, and maybe more. The world is becoming a lifeless lump and we must revive its vitality. We don’t need to go back to heydays or the good-ole-days, we need to recreate the good-new-days, the I-can’t-wait-to-get-started-days.
We need to grab books from shelves with one hand, caulk windows with the other, and figure out that life is about doing both things at the same time, and doing it with vigor, purpose and positivity.
Yes, I did complete trimming out the window and for some reason the view seemed crisper. It had to do with the added bonus I was gifted on this otherwise typical Saturday morning.
That’s the way life should be. It should show up whenever it feels like it. But, like a book on a shelf, you have to be paying attention, so you don’t miss what’s inside the cover. -SS
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