The Present

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By Pookie

Griffith gave me a book,
I don’t know him.
The book was a present,
left on a shelf
in the house of a dead man
for me to find.
Maybe it was Griffith.
It’s a book of poems
meant to make light of dark days
or to hold down papers.
I think Griffith liked this book.
Maybe he wanted to make sure
it went to loving hands.
Maybe that’s why his name is still there.

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

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“I AM ALWAYS DRAWN BACK TO THE PLACES WHERE I HAVE LIVED, THE HOUSES AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS.”

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I might be rich. Or I might own a really bad counterfeit copy of a first edition Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

You tell me.

The provenance of the book is perfect since it came from the wonderful estate of a high-end collector who lived in New York City in the 50s and 60s and was friendly with many in the publishing world. The sale was held in his home where thousands of volumes were double and triple stacked and I, along with many other local book nerds and out-of-town dealers, spent hours that stretched into days combing through the shelves and finding numerous signed first editions.

So, when I spotted the bright orange cover pressed in between two larger books I was confident in its authenticity.This was not a man who bought fake books on street corners.

The jacket cover is worn and bears the first edition pen drawing of Capote on the back. But after I got the book home and examined it further, there are some issues:

  • The jacket has no price or printing date.
  • There is no copyright page or a Random House imprint anywhere except on the “about the author” page.
  • It is not bound in the First Edition bright yellow binding but in a more red/brown tone.
  • The paper is thin and upon further examination the typeset is unaligned.
  • There are missing words in the text. Some letters are handwritten (which does look like a galley.)
    And most concerning is the side title on the book jacket which reads “EREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS.”
      After some investigation around town, one friend of the original owner told me that he had heard that it was a bound galley copy that Capote had printed for his friends in advance of publication.
      But a book dealer I know was puzzled, thought it might be a bad 1950s fake and suggested I find a modern literature book expert. And that’s where y’all come in.
      If you have any ideas, let me know. I’m prepared for the bad news…but if anyone has some great news that would also be welcomed!
      In the meantime I’m proudly displaying it as my mystery Capote book. It somehow seems appropriate.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

The Old Man: A mystery on film

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When I opened the old leatherette camera bag, two small aluminum canisters with bright orange lids spilled out, each about the size of a spool of thread. Their weight felt familiar in my hands; the knock of the 35 millimeter film inside was like an echo from the past. Each roll of Kodachrome had been exposed, waiting to be developed for many years.

In the old days, I knew how to mix the chemicals and make a print on paper from a negative in a darkroom. But those chemicals and enlargers are long gone. You can still get film developed. A drug store in our little town does a lively business at it, because as a clerk explained to me, “A lot of our older customers just don’t like digital cameras.”

Even though I use and love my digital cameras, I understand their feelings. Unlike today’s digital cameras, which divide the world into microscopic dots, each with a number assigned by a computer, film captures light through a chemical process. It has almost physical contact with a moment in time. But now these rolls of film have sat for years inside the old bag. I don’t know if it is possible to develop them or if I should even try.

The old man who owned and shot this film is long gone, and I never knew him. If he had family, I don’t know why they didn’t want his cameras or discover this undeveloped film. What bit of light left on the film is mystery: Perhaps there are moments in which someone he knew and perhaps loved paused and smiled into the lens; a sunset sparkling off the Gulf waters; people gathered for an event no longer in anyone’s living memory but for the curious mixture of light and not-light settling on the film’s surface for just a fraction of a second. Just enough time to create an indelible image, if only in the imagination.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

The Old Man’s Books: Look for these five collections when you are book hunting

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Our fine old dining table is groaning under the weight of our latest book buying debauchery. Looking at the stacks of literature, biographies and references has my head spinning. It is the aftermath of a local estate sale that included a magnificent library of thousands of volumes.

Book dealers swooped in early to look for first editions and the things they can turn profits on. But later, when we arrived there were still great finds. We came home with nearly 100 volumes of what a book seller friend of mine calls “book books.”

These are not the collector’s pieces you find on the back of the New York Times Book Review, these are books you can actually read. And many are bound handsomely enough that you would be proud to display them. We must find room to eat, so these will be going into our bookcases – but not before spending time with me in my study.

At this sale and others, I have noticed a lot of sets of books and series that were published in the late 1800s and early 1900s that you can find for ridiculously low prices, but which would make handsome additions to anyone’s libraries.

Here are five favorites that I have found recently and that you may want to keep an eye out for:

1. The Harvard Classics, published by F. Collier and Son in 1909. This is probably my favorite. The president of Harvard University had often said that the average American could obtain a good liberal education by reading 15 minutes a day from a collection of books that could fit on a five foot book shelf. They include the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

2. The Colonial Press. Around 1900 this London and New York publisher began printing sets and series of books. I found a 16 volume set printed in 1901 that includes everything from The Federalist Papers and John Stewart Mills’ Political Economy to Turkish verse.

3. The Works of Washington Irving: A number of publishers produced sets of his work. We found two recently, from the late 1800s. I have been captivated by his Alhambra describing a journey he took in the early 1800s “among the Moors and Spaniards.”

4. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This set published by Houghton Mifflin in 1904 includes his lectures and essays.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica. When I was a child, I desperately wanted a set of encyclopedias, and I thought Britannica was the best. With the advent of the Internet and the fact that half a century of discoveries and reconsiderations of facts has occurred since these were printed, they are nearly worthless to many people. But I stubbornly bought a set I found recently. And I make a point of using it still.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Sale Day

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S.G. bought a bear suit this morning. Cecelia found a concrete head and a copper stock pot. And I came home with a 1927 T.E.Lawrence first edition and monogrammed damask napkins.

It was just another Friday morning here in the South, where there is nothing better than a good ole eccentric estate sale. You get to see some old friends—or in S.G.’s case, the woman she tangled with over a painting a few months back. (Note: never leave me guarding fine art in a crowded sale.)

If you are prone to being nosy, a sale provides a rare glimpse into how people in your area really live; and that peek is never dull. Who knew that one of our neighbors owned a very expensive pale pink Italian breakfast set? Or why the gentleman in south Tampa had a signed Walker Percy first edition mixed amongst his cookbooks.

I acknowledge that it may be distasteful to some to go through a house full of the once cherished belongings of a person; a couple; a family. But things are not what are important in the end. That is the most valuable lesson learned by anyone who goes to estate sales or sits through antique auctions.

My husband has declared that our children will one day host the greatest eccentric estate sale of all time. But you will need to go to S.G.’s house for that bear suit.