When I was a young girl my father gave me two books. When he brought home the first book and held it out to me, a gesture accompanied with his usual silence, I accepted it gratefully. Until that day, I had not known that my father appreciated my love of reading. Up until then, I was not aware that he saw me that clearly.
I do not remember if I spoke, if I thanked him, but the look on my face must have been thank you enough, because later on he brought me another one.
These books became treasures to me and I guarded them reverently. To me they held a meaning beyond their story. They were proof of what could be done with words; evidence of what intricate power could be woven between two simple cardboard covers.
There was no greater gift, besides his love, that he could have given me, because you see, these were not store-bought books. They were books salvaged from someone else’s trash can. My father’s job was to drive a garbage truck. And I imagine that before he was “promoted” to driver, he was one of the men who picked up the trash cans and dumped them into the back of the truck.
How he noticed that there were books amidst the trash from his perch inside the cab, I don’t know. But just as he’d noticed that his little girl loved to read, so he espied those books and brought them home to her. I read and reread these books countless times, though one was missing the last half of its last page. It would be many years before I knew the ending to that story.
And as they gradually fell apart in my hands, these books served as propellant for my own writing. I accumulated notebooks full of stories, stories that my English teachers praised and led them to encourage my endeavors. I dreamed of going away to college to study journalism. For hours at a time, I would disappear into my own little world dreaming up stories, and reading and writing.
My mother did not understand or accept this as there were four younger children she needed my help with. One day when I was fifteen, I came home from school to discover that everything had been thrown out. All my writings were gone, and worst of all, my books.
The loss left me devastated and I stopped writing, for decades. And what made my pain worse was the thought that my mother had probably coerced my father into helping her discard my things. The irony of him having to return those books to the trash heap made me laugh, as well as cry.
I took this assault on my psyche in stoic silence. I was my father’s daughter and I said nothing to no one. Since then, I’ve never been able to talk or write about this and few people know about it. I bore this event in my life as a mark of shame, though I don’t know why. And as a result, I have never gotten over it. It has hurt to this day.
A few months ago, I did manage to relate this story to my daughter-in-law, with my voice only breaking once or twice. I didn’t realize how intensely she’d listened until I opened my Christmas gift from her. It is an exact replica of one of my missing books, the one that had the last page ripped off, Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes.
The last page on this copy is intact, however, and now, so am I.