Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Book Lover's Birthday Gift: waging battle in verse

Birthday celebration with my brother, my mother, my father, and me - photo by my sister-in-law Sumie Nobunaga Lamport

My dad must have been my age now when I called him
"an old man." Late on a ski day, he'd taken the intermediate slope rather than following me down an icy double-black diamond with hazard signs.

My dad retaliated by quoting poetry at me,

"I grow old...I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?"

My groaning did not stop his recitation.
My dad - and T.S. Eliot - had the last word.

Or so he thought.


Jump ahead in time. I was now the mother... 

...of a teenager who leaves me in her snowy wake. 


Her grandpa had a big birthday. What should we give him?

My dad started the tradition of giving stupid gifts. Before I moved to Oxford, England for a one-year sabbatical, he gave me a mug featuring the six wives of King Henry VIII. When hot tea was poured, their heads vanished.

For my paternal jester, I considered a poetry collection written in invisible ink, but a beautiful edition of T.S. Eliot's poetry would be more classy.


In Portland, Maine I found an antiquarian bookstore, Carlson & Turner. Although T.S. Eliot died years before my birth, 1965 was not quite ancient enough for a leather-bound volume. The bookseller offered to rebind a 1970s edition, which I found at Yes Books. He rolled out reams of dyed leather and sheets of marbled paper. He'd spent decades mastering the classic art of bookbindery. His gorgeous samples with gold lettering were out of another century. The supple leather was soothing in hand.

This was the gift for my dad: "Time for you and time for me."


 A Love Song from J. Alfred Prufrock and me

7 comments:

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

What a lovely post!

A Cuban In London said...

What a fantastic post. Full of wisdom, regardless of age! :-)

Greetings from London.

Rose said...

Happy Birthday to your father! I think it is so cool that you could find someone who still knew the craft of bookbinding to create this beautiful gift for your father. I'm sure he appreciated it. I can't quote Eliot like your father, but the lines I always remembered--from "Prufrock," I think--were "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." There were many days that I felt like this was the best way to describe them:)

Sarah Laurence said...

Jenn & ACIL, thanks!

Rose, that's one of my favorite lines too, and I don't even drink coffee!

troutbirder said...

How neat & a wonderful tradition. By small coincidence I'm just finishing Geraldine Brooks People Of The Book whose protagonist restores and binds books..)

Amanda Summer said...

What a beautiful gift, and what a lovely shot of your family! Happy Birthday wishes to your dear dad xoxo

thecuecard said...

Such an elegant gift! And a lovely post.