A few weeks ago I got a package in the mail. My mom mentioned sending me a few books from my Nanny’s house that she thought I would like to have. Nanny, my mom’s mom and my namesake, died in September of 2007 the same year I graduated college and moved to Nashville — gosh, that was 7 years ago. I took the package home and tore into it. The packages my mom sends are always wrapped really well — anything I pack is always precariously stuffed or protruding from the box seams. I’m momentarily distracted by the yard of bubble wrap but the smell of old books brings me back to the task at hand.
What is it about old books? Specifically these old books held in the hands of my grandmother. Her eyes on every page — the same eyes that looked at me with love and understanding. Could they tell me more about her? Would they spill her stories?
The largest and heaviest — “Aeschylus to Hebbel” written on the front with an image of the dramatic faces and “A Treasury of the Theatre” on the binding. Likely from a college humanities class, I opened the front cover and find her hand written maiden name, “Nancy Davis” and “217 Virginia.” I know she went to Mary Washington College, which was University of Virginia’s Women’s college. I’m not sure what 217 means. Stuffed in the pages are the summaries of every play in my Nanny’s handwriting. The squashed, thin cursive looks familiar because Nanny wrote me letters weekly when I was in college. I smile thinking that I am vicariously visiting her through these notes in her college days.
I start to read them, but the characters have names I cannot pronounce and it’s a summary of a complicated story I have never heard of or read.
I smile again thinking about my own notes — fraught with incomplete or incoherent thoughts. Although most of my undergrad notes were written on paper, I have thrown most of it out. Will my granddaughter find my digital files of my most recent graduate courses? This is a thought that brings me great joy and yet the pain of wondering if this blog will even be available. Then the sadness of questioning if children let alone grandchildren will be a reality…
I flip through the book and let the smell rise from the pages that haven’t been awakened for decades. I find doodles in the margins:
I feel as if I’ve won the lottery — “I love that man — I wan to see him again Boo Hoo!” and “I love this class — only 8 more minutes” and down the binding, “I wonder if anyone is listening to her” — it’s obviously a conversation between friends in the margins. There is something so human about daydreaming in class and about the fact that in the 1940s my Nanny was privileged to get an education on ancient plays — yet she’s still thinking about boys, using sarcasm, and living through those never-ending 8 minutes of class.
I can’t help but feel like she’s with me and somehow by knowing her better, I know myself.