The Books Of My Father

Recently my Grandma mailed me my father’s books from Oklahoma.   You see, in early January, only two days after my relationship ended, I received the phone call that no one wants to get.  On a Thursday, my Grandma called to inform me that my father had died just that morning.  Basically it was a double whammy of a week.  Regardless, by that Sunday I was on a plane to Oklahoma.

I flew out to Oklahoma for my father’s service at the funeral home, and to visit my Grandma and extended family there.  It had been about twelve years since I visited my family in Oklahoma.  My Grandma lives in a rural area, in a farm house with a large, modern barn next to it full of tractors down an unpaved, country lane.  And up and down this country lane, more family members live. I even got to visit for the summer while growing up.  

And being there again, but for a more somber reason, I noticed that everything there seemed to have never changed.  It was simple.  It was full of family.  It was full of food. It was peaceful.

Before I talk about the books in the picture and their significance, I want to share what I wrote back in January.  It was a little tribute, I guess a kind of eulogy that I wrote while on a layover in Denver.  I then posted the following to my personal Facebook account:

January 14, 2020

“I’m writing this from the Denver Airport, having left Oklahoma on a long layover.  I’ll be getting home late tonight.  It’s been a rollercoaster week.  My father, who’s been in Oklahoma since the 1990s, passed away on Thursday.  He was 66, and had been having some health problems, but my grandma said it was a little sudden when he passed at the VA Hospital.

He served 20 years in the US Navy, and was a Vietnam Veteran.  He and my mother split up when I was 3, but I would still have visits with him when he took leave and came up to Sacramento.  Even though I didn’t grow up around him, I still ended up inheriting several of his traits, such as a love of books & reading, historical documentaries, sci-fi & fantasy TV shows, comic books, being stoic in pictures, and only having coffee for breakfast.  

And I too served in the US Navy.  Genetics is a funny thing, no?

The viewing/service was at a funeral home in Pauls Valley.  It was open casket, and he was in his dress blue uniform.  My grandma (his mother) was at my side as we stood in front of him.  She asked how I was doing, but I couldn’t speak.  Instead of waiting for an answer, she just held my hand tight.  After leaving the viewing room many others came to the funeral home, mostly family but also a dozen of his former coworkers.  All told, nearly 70 people came to pay their respects.

I waited until nearly nearly everyone had come, and when the room was empty of people, and went inside to see him again for the last time.  There was an American flag draped across his coffin, his shadow box of medals next to it, and he in his Navy dress blues.  I stood just in front of him.  I then came to attention, rendered a salute, and said aloud:

Fair winds and following seas.”

While at my Grandma’s house she pointed out a small bookshelf in the office.  She told me that the books on it were my father’s, and I could have any of them I wanted.  She said she wasn’t going to read them, and probably no one else would.  She said to just set them aside, and she would send them to me when she could.  I agreed, and picked out the ones you see in the picture.

I’m sure you’ve noticed most of the books are by S.M. Stirling.  They’re from his series of novels called, The Change.  This is significant because I recommended these books to my father about twelve years ago.  In 2008 myself and my wife at the time were living in Georgia, and my father drove out to visit with us for a few days.  Remember what I said above about how the two of us shared similar traits despite me not having grown up around him?  One of those traits was books and reading.  Particularly science fiction and fantasy novels.

What is one thing book lovers love to do?  Book shopping of course!  So that’s what we did. So myself, my wife at the time, and my father went to the local Border’s Books.  While at the store I pointed out The Change novels by S.M. Stirling to my father, and told him how good they are.  At the time, only three books in the series had come out.  He bought the first one there on my recommendation.

Not long after he returned to Oklahoma, he called me to say how awesome he thought Dies The Fire (the first book) by S.M. Stirling was, and had bought the other two.  Over the course of the next decade or so, whenever we would speak on the phone to catch up, chit-chat, etc.  he would always ask if I had read the latest Stirling book from The Change.  We would talk about the book and the story in it.  But after a while, I fell behind in the series, having not yet read the latest novels.

But not my father.  He kept up with the series, purchasing and reading every new one when it came out.  I know he did, because he would always ask me on the phone if I had “picked up the newest Stirling book” over the past several years.  I would tell him that I hadn’t yet, that I fell behind.  My father would tell me a little about it, saying that each new book was really good, but not wanting to spoil the story for me.  I always told him I’d get to the newer books, and get caught up in it so we could talk about it.  But I never did.

Fast forward to today.  I had almost forgotten that my Grandma was going to mail me the books when the packages showed up. It’s been about five months since then.  Opening up the boxes, and seeing all those S.M. Stirling novels, it reminded me of all of the above.  It brought home a sense of lost connections.  You see, over the past couple of years, my father and I didn’t talk as much.  There was nothing bad going on, no anger or animosity or anything like that.  It’s just how we both were.  We even used to joke with each other on the phone about how we could go months or more without talking, and everything was always fine.

But maybe it wasn’t fine.  I’m saying to you, the one reading this right now, that if you have family members that you’re on good terms with, whether they be blood relatives, chosen or adopted family, or even really close friends, do not lose the connections you have.  You never know when that connection is going to be abruptly severed.  Permanently.  Those connections with the people in our lives are what keeps life moving and happy.  And if you don’t maintain it, when you least expect it, that connection can be suddenly cut on a Thursday morning in January.

And so, I will finish reading not only those S.M Stirling novels.  I will read every single one of the books of my father.

Understanding a Book Lover

The new books I bought today, resting atop my awesome book tote I got in New York.

I went to a used bookstore today.  It’s been several months since I, and likely many of us, have been able to do so.  The store requires you to wear a mask while inside, and that was no trouble.  In fact, I think it could be fun to get a Cthulhu mask or a Luchadore mask to wear for my next visit.  Can you imagine how fun it could be, wearing a Cthulhu mask with its long tentacles gently caressing the books as you shop?  And you do this while perusing the dusty shelves filled with volumes on anything from medieval history and science fiction to The Kama Sutra for Clowns.

I love books and going to bookstores.  Because of this I have a small, personal library at home.  Or basically enough books to fill up one of the Donner Party’s cannibal wagons.  Or maybe three of them.  I digress. I am also one of those types of people that has a large stack of books on my “to read” list.  I know I’ll read them someday.  Sooner or later.  I swear.  Why are you rolling your eyes at me like that?  The thing is, is that pile of unread books will never stop me, or any book lover, from buying more.

One reason for this is I’m easily distracted by new releases.  All book lovers are.  That’s part of the book shopping experience.  We know we could be reading something we bought months, or even years ago, and just as we’re about to pick that book up, we happen to find a newly released book by Jim Butcher!  

Honestly, all book lovers can sympathize with this.  Favorite authors always take precedence.  It’s basically like having plenty of food to eat in your kitchen, and then you see a taco truck.  Obviously that taco truck overrides anything in your fridge.  Always.

Because of this, us book lovers rarely don’t have a book to read.  An unintended side effect of this is that the stack of “not-yet-read” books grows taller and more unstable with each passing bookstore trip.  I’m sure that someday, the teetering, wobbly tower of tomes and paperbacks on my nightstand will eventually topple over onto my bed while I’m sleeping, covering me in an avalanche of  fantasy, history, and adventure fiction.  If that ever happens to me, send one of those Saint Bernards with a small barrel of Irish whiskey around its neck to dig me out.

If you’re ever at a bookstore with someone like me, and you’re short on time, you’d better put them on a leash.  Or attach a chain between your belts to keep your book lover close.  If you don’t do this, be prepared to lose them amidst the aisles and aisles of ink-encrusted former trees.  You won’t see them again until they’ve returned with an armload of new books on subjects like seafaring, Hobbit home construction, tiny dragons, their third copy of the Harry Potter series (it’s a new, leather-bound edition…damnit!), and a step-by-step manual on becoming a Sith Lord.

I honestly believe that books are a good thing for everyone for the most part.  They can enlighten you, teach you new things, pass on important information, make you laugh, or transport you to new worlds.  If you’ve never been interested in reading, then perhaps you haven’t found something that interests you.  I didn’t become interested in books until I discovered the epic, sword & sorcery fantasy of The Lord of the Rings, and The Sword of Shannara.  Find a subject that captivates you and draws you in.  

It could be a crime thriller, one of those “stabby stabby” murder mysteries.  

It could be a “boy meets girl, they fall in love, and together open a chinchilla petting zoo” style of romance novel.

Or it could be a space-faring science fiction adventure, full of lasers, gunships, and strange aliens that look like they just emerged from the darkest depths of a hostile jungle planet.  Or Florida.

Perhaps fiction doesn’t interest you at all.  You might be more interested in personal growth, and you’d prefer reading books that help you learn about yourself and be a better person.  That’s perfectly okay too.  I’ve read my share of them as well.  

Reading books can also be a great stress reliever.  Honestly.  Take some time out of your busy, hectic schedule, and devote some time just for you with a good book.  It doesn’t matter what that book is.  Even if that book is The Kama Sutra for Clowns.  

Happy Reading!

At Beers Books in Sacramento.