Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Secret Life of Books: Of Vow and Verse

One thing I love about collecting antique books is discovering the hidden stories they tell. It feels magical to open an old volume and find a photo, clipping, or note that someone left behind long ago. 

I've been putting together my kids' homeschool curriculum for this coming school year and have started collecting the books they'll be reading. They read a lot of books that are 80-100 years old and older, but I usually purchase a newer version in paperback so they'll last longer. Whenever I find an antique version, however, I grab it up for my own library. 

I recently found this 1939 version of The Oxford Book of English Verse at my local library's book sale shop. It's the "new edition", spanning years 1250-1908. Its navy blue cover is just the right amount of worn and its ribbon bookmark is set at Coleridge's Kubla Khan. It's going to look lovely in my collection but what I'm most excited about was the treasure I found inside.

On one side is the minister's notes for a long ago marriage ceremony. One side has been torn off---I'm sure it's marking a spot in some other old book somewhere. 

The other side is someone's notes for his marriage vows. My imagination tells me it's the night before the wedding and the couple has just finished the wedding rehearsal at the church. All went fairly well, until the future bride pulled a folded note from her purse when the minister said it was time to practice their vows. On it was the seventeenth draft of the wedding vows she'd been rewriting all week. An awkward silence follows the groom's little white lie, "I'm still working on mine."

After everyone else has left, the groom says to the minister in a panic, "Why didn't you tell me, man?! I don't know how to write wedding vows---I thought that was your job!" The minister tells him to just make a list of a few things he likes about her and end it with something Laurence Olivier would say. The groom pats his pockets, searching for something to write on. The minister grabs the order of service from his Bible and rips a portion off to keep back for a bookmark. "Here man, use this. Now pull yourself together. It's your wedding, after all."  The groom grabs the paper and offered pen and scribbles the following:

sense of adventur
flex indep.
love of nature
comm to family
your wonderful soul
Together, I want to seek, through life's adventures, to expand our hearts & minds

Shaking, he hands it back to the minister. "How's this?" he asks. 
"Excellent," he answers. "Now put it somewhere where you won't lose it."