That little back room was musty.
The door remained closed most of the time. Heavy drapes covered a bay window, never opened. An old candle sat halfway burned on the side table.
My kids were forever knocking it over.
Bookshelves covered one wall floor to ceiling… dense with the special things. Small framed family photos, sculptures and trinkets filled the space.
A collection of art books lined a bottom shelf, each volume sheathed in its own individual box. Donning this armor, they stood protected from the decades that had passed.
Other shelves contained:
- business books
- a full set of blue gilded World Book Encyclopedias
- romance novels purchased over a lifetime’s worth of airport book shop browsing.
A yellowing boarding pass from a long ago flight rested between the pages of a biography. On the opposite wall, papers piled up on a small roll top desk alongside a small laptop computer.
The desk gave life to the game.
It started simply. Another day mothering a young child.
We finished our weekly bagel brunch with our grandparents. Everyone retired to the living room to visit as we had for years. Only now, we had a rambunctious toddler, insistent on throwing Legos across the floor. Hell bent on running laps along the ominous stone hearth.
“Hey sweetie… let’s go to the back of the house and play while Daddy visits.”
We found ourselves in the dark office. It was small enough to contain her. But also full of enough interesting things that occupying her seemed possible.
Back then, one of our favorite activities was going to the library, so I rolled with it. Reclining lazily on the upholstered white loveseat (how it was still white, I will never know), I suggested that we play pretend.
“I will come to you looking for a book, and you will find one for me and help me check out,” I instructed her.
I set her up at the little desk and showed her where she could type the “information”. Like we did on the computers at the library.
Then, I showed her how to use the mouse, with its infrared glow, to “scan” the book I would check out.
I made requests.
In the beginning it was simple.
“Welcome to the library, how can I help you?”
“Hi! I’m looking for a book for my daughter. She likes pink. Do you have a pink book?”
She ran to the bookshelf, using her newfound preschool knowledge to hunt for a book of the right hue.
Later, we progressed to seeking out books with certain letters, topics, and subjects.
Sundays piled up and the years passed. We found a favorite set: a rainbow colored Reader’s Digest collection of “Best Loved Books”. Each hardback contained 4 classic stories (think Sherlock Holmes, Tom Sawyer, and Robin Hood).
Sometimes, after the tiny librarian piled a heavy stack of carefully chosen books onto my chest, I would open one. I’d thumb through the pages until an excerpt jumped out at me. I’d read it silently, or sometimes aloud
“Mom. Stop reading that. We’re playing LIBRARY!”
Later, a little brother arrived and he, too, was whisked back to the library when visiting time came.
First, I would nurse him or hold him on the little white loveseat. His sister furiously tapped away on the keyboard, searching for an imaginary book about princesses.
Eventually, his sister graciously dubbed him “baby librarian” and made him a little desk using a stool and the window seat.
He had a small magnifying lamp and a piece of paper with which to do his work. But he was ONLY allowed to do the tasks delegated to him by the demanding head librarian.
When I write the memory now it rings idyllic. But truthfully, I sometimes I felt a little resentful sitting back in the office.
Often, I was far from present in these precious moments.
Some days I barely paid attention to what the kids were doing. I chose instead to browse the Target leaflet or scroll through my phone.
I called out the occasional library request. You know, so the staff could keep themselves occupied.
My self-appointed goal was to keep them confined so their dad could spend time with his grandparents. Sometimes I wished I was doing something else.
The weeks kept passing, and the librarians kept assisting me. But then, without realizing it… we played the game for the last time.
Both grandparents are gone now.
At our grandfather’s wake, the children slid down the stairs in sock feet. Little fingers plinked piano keys once off limits to respect the elderly residents.
The kitchen buzzed with conversation and remembrance as I slipped away alone.
I wandered slowly through the back of the house. Walking through each bedroom first, I felt the presence of the people who had given them life. I reflected on all the love that lived there.
Finally, I made it to the office. Once again I leaned on the familiar white couch in my black dress and took a look around.
Nothing had changed in that room, yet so much had changed.
This chapter of life had ended.
A generation of family had departed, a piece of my story as a mother was over.
I would never again sit in this place and play the game that had occupied so many Sunday mornings.
I would never feel the weight of books piled upon my chest by chubby hands
I would not hear tiny voices tell me my book was overdue and must be returned.
I would never feel Pap’s strong, soft hand squeeze mine in parting. Or breathe in his cologne as I hugged him goodbye in his leather chair.
Sometimes we are blind to the beauty that is unfolding around us.
I was completely unaware of the magic that we had in that little back room.
I had no idea how short and how sweet this window of time would be.
I didn’t think I wanted to take anything tangible from the house. The love I took from the wonderful, generous people who lived there was enough to last me a lifetime. But as the house was emptied, someone asked me if I would like anything from the library. And I knew that I did.
I wanted the set of rainbow colored books.
I’m pretty sure they have no value to anyone but me.
My kids and I are the only ones who experienced the magic in that room.
Still, as I sit here writing, I’m glancing at this stack of books on my shelf. I know that they are a treasure of immeasurable value.
- They will remind me of the memories we made.
- They will remind me of when my kids were little.
- They will remind me to make a game out of life.
But most of all, they will remind me to savor every moment I have with loved ones.
“The last time” always comes.
Whether it’s the last hug, the last time you tell someone you love them, or the last time you play the game.
It always comes.