The boxes hadn’t been opened in more than 40 years, flaps barely held together with duct tape gone brittle at the edges. They’d been stored in the attic of our Asheboro home, then carted to the town house where my mom lives now, relegated to a high shelf in the garage, their contents mostly forgotten.
A few nights ago, when I was at my mom’s for supper, I thought I might like to see what was in those boxes. We pulled out the stepladder, and I climbed up, gingerly handing down each dusty box, seeing for the first time the word “BOOKS” printed with a black marker in my dad’s precise handwriting. We brought the boxes, seven of them, into the house, and I peeled the tape off the first one.
Inside, preserved in place for decades, two dozen hardcovers pressed against the walls of the box. Titles came rushing back to me: Prayers and Graces for a Small Child; The Bumper Book; Raggedy Ann and the Daffy Taffy Pull. These weren’t just books. They were my books, the ones I’d hugged close and toted all over the house, the ones I’d held on to at bedtime, lingering over every illustrated page until my eyes fluttered shut.
I opened the cover of The New Golden Dictionary, a book that had been my favorite for its sheer abundance of words and pictures (“Over 2,000 pictures in full color,” it said right on the front; “1,712 words!”), and saw the inscription.
Merry Christmas, Elizabeth Ann with love from Grandma Norva and Grandpa Harris
December 25, 1974.
My grandmother’s handwriting, sheltered from light and touch in this box for decades, was still vivid on the page. I could envision her hand, ringed with her gold charm bracelet, her slender fingers still agile and arthritis-free, holding the Blue Cross Blue Shield ballpoint pen that had been a gift to my grandfather when he retired from selling insurance. I could imagine her writing my name, carefully looping the letters in the Palmer-style cursive she’d learned as a young girl.
Nearly every book in the boxes had been a gift from someone in my family — grandparents, aunts and uncles, my mom and dad — each one thoughtfully inscribed with the giver and the date. Christmases and birthdays and Easters and Valentine’s Days. As the years passed, the books held more words and fewer pictures. I rediscovered my entire Weekly Reader book club collection and a series of Agatha Christie pocket paper-backs that I’d spent a whole winter reading during the hour-long bus ride to school.
For the next several hours, my mom and I pored over these books, reading aloud to each other from Scuffy the Tugboat, from Where the Wild Things Are, reliving these fanciful, joyful stories that once filled our house and reacquainting ourselves with the characters — here again are Max and Charlotte and Alice and Pippi! — who shaped my childhood and filled my heart. How happy I am to see all these names again, the storybook ones, of course, but the real ones, too, the signatures and messages from people I loved so much, a true gift, a com-forting reminder that their presence has been here all along.
To commemorate our 90th anniversary, we’ve compiled a time line that highlights the stories, contributors, and themes that have shaped this magazine — and your view of the Old North State — using nine decades of our own words.