Granddaddy’s Books

Formerly the property of
Charles Coffing Beach MD
given now by his son
Goodwin Batterson Beach Litt. D & LHD
to his granddaughter
Melissa Hamilton Thompson
March 1975

The above is the inscription in the first volume of The Riverside Natural History, which set of books my grandfather gave me a couple of months before he died. Published in 1884, there are six volumes, each weighing nearly six pounds. I have another book from his library, Erasmus’ Translation of the New Testament into Latin. There isn’t a single word of English in this small volume, but I at least I can read the numbers; this one was published in 1543. Throughout the book, each page has a column of the original Greek side by side with Erasmus’ Latin translation. I used to be able to read the Greek reasonably well with some lexical help and was also generally able to read the Latin. Sadly, I am now very rusty in both languages.

Granddaddy often spoke to me in Latin, insisting that Latin was a living language that could still be spoken in everyday life. I absorbed Latin words as part of the air I breathed, since I’d heard him speaking Latin to me from the time I was a baby. Even when Granddaddy spoke English, it was sprinkled with many now-archaic words and expressions that were archaic even then and have given me a lasting love of beautiful and seldom-used words. In addition to inspiring a love for language and languages, Granddaddy was one of the people who inspired in me a love of all learning, not only the languages he loved, but also the animals and nature that I was most drawn to. Hence the gift of The Riverside Natural History, as well as numerous books about animals and veterinarians throughout my childhood.

I put Volume 1 of the Natural History back on my shelf and reach for Vol. 5: The Mammals, but stop to look at the binding. Deep brown leather, a bit cracked and worn on the edges, gold lettering, decorative patterns engraved in the almost 3 inch wide spine. I run my fingers along the leather, pull the volume off my shelf, see the multi-colored swirling pattern on the edges of the closed pages, then open the book to see the marbled end pages inside the binding. As I hold the heavy volume, fifty years drop away, and I am standing in Granddaddy’s library…

Books line the walls, neatly arranged on built-in shelves up to the ceiling, bindings drawing me close to look, tempting me to run my finger over the soft, worn leather; titles promising knowledge and adventure, if only I could read Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages. Just touching the bindings fills me with a hunger to learn, to enter conversations long ago started by the people Granddaddy knows through their words, who have shaped him into the grandfather I know. I move slowly from one shelf to another, savoring the rich red, brown, black, and tan leather-bound books, some narrow, some three or more inches wide, a few with titles I read, most in Latin or some other language I can’t yet read. I want to learn the languages so I can join the conversations.

I am entranced by the books, but the reason I am here is Granddaddy, sitting in the corner in his armchair with the coarse, tan tweed upholstery with a singe mark on one arm, bookshelves on both sides and a small end table with his talking books beside his chair. He can’t see very well anymore and he doesn’t move so quickly these days, so after I use the wood and leather bellows to get the fire blazing brightly again in the small fireplace in the corner of his office, I bring him his pipe and a glass of water, then nestle into his lap, leaning my head against his chest, my cheek against his scratchy tweed jacket. Granddaddy wraps his strong arms and gentle hands around me, arms and hands that have split wood and stacked it into circular piles that made great forts for all of us grandchildren, that carefully planted hundreds of seedlings, that tirelessly pushed my siblings and me around in a wheelbarrow when we were smaller, and that have held thousands of books to read or to inspire others from. I breathe deeply, the scent of the library fire, of Granddaddy’s pipe, of a world of books stirring in me a longing for knowledge and eagerness to learn. I breathe out and nestle closer, listening to Granddaddy’s heart beating slow and steady, feel his arms strong and gentle around me, and relax in the knowledge that I am loved.

Granddaddy– I keep this photo on my desk

A to Z April Blogging G

Rhythm of Life and Books, Books, Books

It’s been over two months since I posted, and I am planning to start posting art and musings somewhat more regularly. I have recently decided to step back from most of Facebook, which is giving me more time (it’s so easy to lose vast amounts of time browsing through friends’ news feeds and reading comments), and, more importantly, is freeing up more mental energy. I am still posting some artwork and photos on Facebook, but I am reading very little there and am enjoying greater peace of mind and more time to read and to make art, whether painting or sketching.

We came home from Maine near the end of June, and since then I’ve been taking time off from my dog training business to get settled back in after three months away, but mostly to recover from many months of stress that started with my parents’ health issues back in the fall, included some health issues for Stephen and me, then the twins’ premature birth and our temporary and sudden move to Maine, then my father’s illness and death. And then I wiped out on my bicycle and cracked a few ribs a week before we returned home from Maine. I was ready for a break!

During this time I’ve been trying to establish a better rhythm for my days, and toward that end I’ve been reading some helpful books, as well doing much pondering as I walk the dogs and some journaling most mornings. One book which I’m very much appreciating right now is The Pressure’s Off, by Larry Crabb, who has long been a favorite author of mine. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but he emphasizes the absolute importance of desiring intimacy with God over the blessings we would like to have in this life. He says that as long as we believe that if we live a certain way doing the “right” things we are likely to have the life we want (health, comfortable home, children who are doing well, etc), we will be under tremendous pressure to “get it right.” But if our greatest desire is to draw close to God no matter how things are going in our life, the pressure is off, because we aren’t focused on outcomes that we can’t really control anyway, and we can be satisfied at the deepest level of our being that nothing but God can truly satisfy, since we were created for connection with him.

I’m also reading Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, another favorite author of mine. I’m only in the third chapter, but she starts right out talking about longing for God, about reading Scripture in a way that draws me into the story and then makes the story of Scripture a part of my life, and about solitude– how I love that word as an invitation to my soul to step out from under the pressure of daily life and expectations!

Just yesterday I started reading Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris, which I expect will stir in me a desire for a Benedictine-like rhythm to my days, which will help maintain my focus and dependence on God. I have previously read on and pondered Benedictine spirituality and always found it helpful, but it’s hard to stay on track without some sort of accountability (which is built into Benedictine life). Both Larry Crabb and Ruth Haley Barton talk about the need for spiritual friendships that provide ongoing encouragement and discernment, which brings me to another book I’m reading and discussing with a close friend: Crafting a Rule of Life, by Stephen Macchia. I’ve found it a bit tedious at times, but useful for helping me sort through various aspects of my life, interests, passions, goals, and responsibilities, and I think discussing it with a friend will help with both discernment and mutual encouragement. That seems especially important during this time of somewhat limited interaction with others due to Covid-19.

As usual, I am reading a mini-library, rather than just one book, and the one I’ve mentioned are just a few of my current books. I’m also reading a fascinating, fabulously well-written, informative book called Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance, by Marian Gosnell; A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (just started this, but think it will be hard to put down); Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan (which I think will tie in well with the books on spiritual focus); and A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis; as well as a couple of art books about painting landscapes; and Dog Songs, a book of beautifully illustrated and insightful poems by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite contemporary poets. In addition to all of these books, I am reading through the book of Psalms over and over (about once a month) and Stephen and I are reading aloud through the Old Testament a page or so at a time. And he and I have also been reading through Orson Scott Card’s many science fiction books, which are very engaging I’m planning on picking up The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy sometime in the next week or so, as someone recently recommended it.

Well, I wasn’t originally planning this to be a post primarily about books, but that seems to be where my thoughts have gone. I do find that reading slows me down from the overly fast and pressured pace of life dictated by modern technology and issues and often helps to establish some rhythm to my days. It also gives my wonderful cat Acadia time to snuggle on my lap, where she makes sure I don’t get too deeply absorbed in whatever I’m reading. If you have any recommendations for me, please feel free to mention them in a comment. I have a long, long list of recommended books, but I’m always happy to add to it.

Acadia snuggling while I read
Acadia telling me to stop reading and pay attention to her

Granddaddy’s Library

I wrote this last March, but am posting it now, since yesterday, October 2, would have been my grandfather, Goodwin Batterson Beach’s, 130th birthday. He was one of the people who gave a solid foundation of love in my childhood and who inspired in me a love of learning, particularly a love of language and languages. Granddaddy often spoke to me in Latin, and his ordinary English was sprinkled with many now-archaic words and expressions that were archaic even then and have given me a love of beautiful and seldom-used words. Here is one of my many wonderful memories of Granddaddy:
It’s March 31st, but it’s snowing pretty hard and feels raw outside. Inside, though, Steve has just kindled a fire, so I get my book and head for the living room. As I enter the room, I hear the crackling of the fire and I smell smoke. Not the kind of smoke that burns your eyes or makes you cough. This is a warm, homey smelling smoke that takes me back through time, back almost five decades and east about 75 miles to West Hartford, Connecticut.

I step into Granddaddy’s library and am in another world. A world of books, of warmth, of quiet, a world of love, though I don’t think to call it by that name. It’s just Granddaddy’s library, and it’s one of my favorite places. A fire roars and crackles on the hearth, bright embers occasionally popping against the screen– a metal mesh that slides across the front of the small fireplace. When the fire dies down, one of us grandchildren gets to use the wooden and leather bellows to blow air at the base of the logs to revive the flames, filling the library with a smokey smell peculiar to this room. The smell of this room is the fragrance of peace to me.

Everything in this room speaks peace– the wallpaper with its subtle pattern, the wood paneled cabinets below the bookshelves, the oriental rug that muffles my steps, the table with brass letter opener neatly in its place, and the books. Books that line the walls, neatly arranged on built-in shelves up to the ceiling, bindings drawing me close to look, tempting me to run my finger over the soft, worn leather; titles promising knowledge and adventure, if only I could read Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages.

The best part of the room is Granddaddy, sitting in his armchair with the coarse, tan tweed upholstery in the corner with bookshelves on both sides and a small end table beside his chair. He can’t see me very well, but when I nestle into his lap and lean my head against his chest, my cheek against the scratchy tweed jacket, he wraps his long arms around me. I hold still and listen to his heart beating slow and steady, feel his arms strong and gentle around me, smell the comforting smell of tobacco, and know I am safe and loved.