Several times over the years I have bought—or borrowed—an old book, only to find something miraculous tucked inside, making the volume all the more precious for this unexpected treasure. There was, of course, the Oxford letter found one moonlit summer's night. And then there was a letter I found in a volume of poetry by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The volume is very old and fragile, bound in a soft olive green suede embossed with goldleaf lettering and a garland of flowers. Its pages are thick, creamy stock with hand-cut edges, uneven and ragged on three sides and sewn into the binding by hand. When I found it in the old shop, the book's edges were sufficiently misalligned as to conceal the letter. It wasn't until I arrived home and thumbed through the poems that I discovered it, written in a spidery hand and revealing names and intentions that tugged at my heart.
Judging from the letter tucked into its pages, it was a heartfelt gift, passed from one generation to another. The names are there but there are no faces or histories to go with them. Only a little girl, a kindly older gentleman, and his two sons—Doug and Wally.
I was nearly in tears by the time I finished the letter and can never take down the book without feeling a deep affection for the writer, his father, and that little girl... whoever they were.
This little book of poems was the property of my dear father. It was printed and bound in Scotland, the land he loved so dearly. As a reader of poetry, I have yet to meet his equal. How well I remember Doug and myself gazing into the fire, listening to Dad reading poetry, in such a way that it carried the mind far away from local surroundings.
I want you to take this little volume as a gift from me. As I write this I can imagine the smile on his kindly old face as he sanctions my act in giving it to the dear girl whom I know he would have wished to have it.
The writing and English in this note is bad but there is a lump in my throat which is choking me.
Good night dear girl,