A Well-Loved Book

My husband was reading a brand-new book with dinner last night and dribbled beet juice across a pristine page. He wasn’t happy. A few cuss words might have been involved. My first thought, which I kept silent, was ‘it’s now our book!’.

What does a well-loved book look like in your space? I promise each new book that comes into our house that I will love and cherish it. I’m careful and respectful the first time I open the cover, being cautious about bending the cover back too far. I try to find something nice for a bookmark. I wipe my hands on my clothes (pages are more important). I don’t dog-ear pages and try not to break the spine.

That lasts until, maybe, the first chapter and I’m immersed in the story and forget the real world. It depends on how far I read before I have to put the book down. The next time open it, anxious to get back into the new story world, the bookmark will have wandered away so a corner of paper towel or a torn envelope, or the cell phone gets used. And of course, in my happiness, I open the book wider, weigh the pages down with the greasy butter dish, and give no thought to the spine.

Our books are read over and over, and if they were dogs, they’d have a great life. They get hauled around. They go on car rides. They go outside. They get table scraps like beets. They get snuggles on the comfy chair by the fire with a blanket. They get undivided attention.

We have some books so well-loved and well-read, and so old, that pages are falling out. My husband has some where whole chapters have gone missing. He has even lost covers. But he’ll still re-read them because he knows what happens in those missing bits. And there’s always the hope that they’ll show back up some day with their own stories about hanging out with lost socks.

I also have books showing their age and looking elderly and fragile. I’ve bought second, and sometimes third, copies of them in order to keep the original from getting worse. I love opening them carefully, tucking the loose pages back inside, and seeing my very young handwriting on the inside cover. Or my sister’s young handwriting. She had a habit of claiming my things.

She’s also the only photogenic one in the family.

I see my handwriting and try to remember who that little girl was and what she thought the first time she opened that book. Little did she know all the years of friendship and enjoyment those characters would give her. And she’d never have believed it if someone had told her she’d still be reading the same book when she was that old.

And the only one that pays attention.

There’s a lot to be said for the new book smell, the pristine pages, the not-cracked spine, the new adventure waiting. There’s a place for that.

But there’s also a very special place for long-time friends that are maybe showing their age but are still willing to whisk you away on an adventure or sit with you and share their story.

Here’s to old friends and well-loved books.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Path or Destination?

I had a difficult conversation with our son recently. During that talk he said there was no sense starting something now because it would take a long time to reach the result we were talking about. I told him he was looking at taking a long path, not reaching a destination. I’ve been thinking about those words a lot since then. Plus thinking about how far down that path he would be if he’d stepped out on the journey three years ago. It doesn’t help to dwell on ‘what might have been’.

A trail we’d walk, now changed from a forest fire.

My husband and I used to go for walks together. When we did, there had to be a destination. He isn’t one to just go on a ramble with no known end in sight. Where we used to live, you could head out into the trees and walk as long as you wanted. There was the road, there were trails, there were logging roads. By myself, I could walk until I was done, then turn around and go home, whether I’d reached a goal or not. But that used to drive my husband nuts. He needed to know where he was going. Which was fine with me, too, because for me the goal was walking with him.

That’s the baby sister by the way, not me.

I think about all the actual paths we’ve walked, and of course I think about the metaphorical paths we’ve walked. Most of those metaphorical trails we’ve followed in our lives still have no known destination. We’re still meandering along wondering where this rough path is going. Maybe hoping for a log to sit on and rest some day.

My friend Jenni is always game for a walk. Here she is in Erin’s Wood.

There have been so many paths that I have turned around on before I got to the destination. But I loved doing that. Just heading out for a ramble, being out in the trees, no destination, no timeline, no goal.

There are also a lot of paths I’ve chosen to never step out onto, for so many reasons. A lot of those reasons had to do with fear. Fear of holding back those I walked with. Fear of failure. Fear of letting those I care about down. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of falling. Do I regret those? Not really. Except for the walks I turned down out of fear of holding back others. One of those friends I worried about disappointing died unexpectedly in a car accident. I no longer have her in my life to hold back, or to disappoint, and those things don’t seem as important any more.

Circling back to that conversation with my son…I have to step off that path. I can’t share it anymore. I can’t lead the way. If there is a destination, it’s different for both of us.

When he was little, my husband took him up a trail known locally as Lookout Point. It’s steep and narrow and honestly, the only trail I’ve ever been on that completely creeps me out. I swear it’s haunted. I don’t hike it. But on that day, my husband told our son to stay close to the uphill side, not the edge. Our son of course went too close to the edge and disappeared. That fast. A log bordered the outer edge but the land under the log had slid away. Our son slipped down into that gap. My husband saw him, down in that gap, hanging on. I don’t know which of them was more terrified. After that, our son stayed on the uphill side.

Looking up the last chute of Lookout.

Whether he’ll do that now, follow our advice, or go his own way, we shall see. And my husband will always be there to grab him and keep him from falling. I’m not sure I can.

Many years ago my husband and I were walking a trail near Troublesome Creek. We were just friends going for walks (so I thought). There was this slight incline in the trail. He went ahead and turned to give me a hand up. I was surprised that he thought I couldn’t make it up on my own. Later, when I finally realized there was something else going on, he told me it had been an excuse to take my hand.

Even back then, he had the destination in mind while I meandered along the path.


I confess I love those stupid social media questions where they say ‘you’ve been kidnapped – the person coming to rescue you is the character in the last book you read’ or the character from the last movie you watched. Those questions always get me thinking about all the wonderful characters I’ve come across in books.

Plus, I always answer with Amos Burton, a character from The Expanse books, and now the television series. He’s a fascinating character because he had this horrific childhood that’s alluded to in the books but never, thankfully, detailed, and that background left him with no sense of right or wrong. He recognizes that he’s broken so he finds someone that he thinks is a good person and follows them as his moral compass. ‘No trouble unless there’s trouble, then lots of trouble’.

All that got me thinking of characters from books that have stayed with me long after finishing the book, and what made them so memorable.

Homily Clock. The mother from The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. She lived a life of safety and security in the semi-darkness under the kitchen floorboards. She never saw ‘human beans’ and never saw the outdoors so when her family had to escape into the fields she was terrified of everything. She would cry and grumble and delay and try to avoid, and in the end she always did what needed to be done to keep her family safe. She showed more courage than any other character in those books.

Amelia Peabody. Because, well, if you know me, the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters has been a steadfast favorite for many years. I loved how her opinion of herself and her hero abilities were so different from the opinions of the others who loved her. And it was great how the author showed those different opinions even though the books were written in first person, from Amelia’s viewpoint. For example, she always carried a little pistol and would pull it to save the day, convinced in her mind that she was a marksman, only to terrify her family and send them fleeing.

Mole, from the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He looked at life with such wondrous innocence and joy. Every tiny little thing was something to be fully experienced and I think as we get older we lose that sense of wonder and magic and the simple happiness of a picnic basket by the side of the river on a spring day with your friends.

Lynn Schooler. This is kind of cheating as technically he’s not a character. He’s a real person who wrote a memoir called Walking Home. But that book stays with me because of the unbelievable courage it took to decide one day to step out into the wilderness and go for a walk.

Faina. The child from The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. She stays with me because of how the story allowed me to remember the magic of fairy tales. And the book left me with the mystery of who she really was.

Winnie. The teenager from The Geography of Water by Mary Emerick. A beautifully written story and a young girl who walks away from her life in order to live, and then returns.

Obviously this could be a really long list. So I’ll keep it short with just the ones that come immediately to mind, and ask you to remind me of more characters that come into our stories and don’t leave us.