My parents are moving. They will start packing up their house this week and will have to be finished and moved out by the end of the month. They have already started on the books. Boxes and boxes of books.
Let me back up.
My dad collects books the way most people collect memories. The house, every house we’ve ever lived in, is lined with bookcases. Walls vanish behind row after row of books. Communication, psychology, business, urban planning, critical theory, art, comparative literature. Every topic you could imagine, it’s all there. Nearly every book is in good condition. Nearly every spine barely creased despite years of use and rereading. Except for the novels, the soft, worn and beat up novels, not gone nor forgotten, but tucked safely away at the back of the house, waiting for someone to recall them into the conscious mind. Picture the number of books that you believe would be too many books for one person and multiple that by 50. That’s probably about half of the book collection my dad has built over the years.
When my dad had a heart attack in his early 50’s, I started to worry about how much longer he would be around. What if my dad dies before I ever have children, I’ll often wonder when I’ve had a bad day and my mind insists on drifting as far away from optimism as possible. What will I tell them about their grandpa? What image will they have of this man they never got to meet? Of course it will be an image of him with his books, for there is no other way to properly describe my dad. It will be him, bent at the waist with one hand on his knee and the opposite foot tapping time to a song that plays in his head as he purses his lips and searches the middle row of a bookshelf. It will be him, asleep in a living room chair, book in one hand, pencil raised and dangling in the other. Or at halftime of one of my soccer games, book open on his lap while all the parents around him talk about the weather and the upcoming 5th Grade dance. It will be an image of him running out of the room mid-conversation, because someone has said something that reminds him of a passage from a book. Or him entering, mid-conversation, with a smile on his lips and a laugh in the back of his throat, because he wants us all to hear this one thing he just read so we can all laugh too. It will be an image of him with my mom at his side, packing book after book into brown boxes, as they have done so many times in their life together, as they do again this week, perhaps for the last time.
I am not sad that my parents are moving out of the house I spent a good chunk of my childhood in. Part of me thinks I should feel a greater sense of loss, some feeling of finality, of the door to my childhood closing for good and receding in the rearview mirror until it is gone from sight and exists only in my collection of memories. Perhaps I am not sad because that home has changed a lot since I first moved away from it. My old bedroom was turned into a different room rather quickly. My little sister moved out of her bright yellow bedroom and into the basement, and then off to Chicago, and then farther still to Germany. There is very little about the house that feels the same as it was when I grew up there. Except the books. The books still line every available wall and are piled high on every free, flat surface. When my parents move into their new house in Baltimore, though it is much smaller and most of the books will have to remain in storage, they will line every wall with bookshelves. They will fill the house with all the familiar titles and straight spines that I have seen throughout my lifetime. I’m not sad that my parents are moving out of my childhood home, because home is not that house. Home is where the books are. And the books are coming this way, only a few miles from me.