By Bud Koenemund
The old man –
despite the protestations of his home nurse – struggled to throw off the
blankets and stand. Teetering slightly, he shuffled across the thick carpet deliberately.
Reaching one of the many dark cherry-wood bookshelves lining the walls, he
lifted a thick tome, and then slowly returned to stand beside my chair.
move, I prayed silently he would not fall.
He held out the
book in both hands, as if offering it to me.
this?" he asked, opening the cover and pointing at its publication date.
"1912. More than 100 years old."
A whistle of sincere
appreciation escaped my lips.
anyone will ever read on a 100 year old electronic gizmo," he said with a
laugh that quickly turned into a choking cough.
The nurse reached
out for him before I could stand to help steady his frail body.
it," he said, thrusting the book toward me, when he finally caught his
"Oh, Sir; I
couldn't take your…" I began.
mine," he interrupted. "And, while it's filled with his words, it's
not William Shakespeare's either. Though, he and I will be discussing it very
"I'm not its
owner any more than you will be. Those of us who love books – those like you
and I – we're more like caretakers. I'm not its first, and I want to make sure
I won't be its last. Take it, read the words; turn the pages, let them slip
over your fingertips; savor the scent of it.
I reached out for
the book he still held.
to shuffle off the mortal coil, as Will would say," he croaked, "and,
I don't want that lost in a dusty library basement, or hidden away in the private
collection of some pretentious schmuck."
I laughed as my
fingers caressed the century old cracked leather cover. I fought the urge to
open it immediately.
leave it to your family, or donate it, or have it put on display," I tried
it," he ordered. "Someday, when your time comes – and it will come –
pass it on to someone else."
"I can't thank you enough," I said,
while his words turned over in my mind.
a lot of years trying to figure out what it is about books," he said.
"The books we give as gifts mean something, I think. Maybe they say
something about who we are. Or, about who or what we want the recipient to
He turned back to
his bed. As he climbed into the pile of blankets and pillows, I collected my
things. Knowing it unlikely I would see him again – at least in this world – I
thanked him once more for his time, and his gift.
I descended the stairs haltingly, wanting to
go back and ask one more question. I exited the front door meditating on what
he'd said about books, and wondering what he wanted me to be.