Doyle was, for all intents and purposes, a lonely man. Now in his late 60s, he’d never married like his two brothers and one sister. He was the oldest child and as such had not only cared for his siblings during their formative years while their parents both worked but he had cared for their parents as they each got older and took ill. Their mother died 10 years prior and their father died soon after, leaving Doyle all alone at the family estate. For a while the family congregated there on major holidays–Doyle was an excellent cook–but soon as their families grew, they began going on trips and visiting in-laws, leaving Doyle to his own devices which were few. Eventually, he saw none of his family members unless someone died or was gravely ill. It wasn’t until the last few years that the loneliness had become an issue. Prior to that he’d done a lot of reading; burying himself in the lives of the endless characters in the library of books he had amassed since childhood was certainly a comfortable way to spend the quiet hours. But one day his sister Sarah had arrived and announced that his obsession with books was unhealthy. After a heated argument he’d thrown her out but on a day that he had slipped into town for supplies, she had returned; her husband and four children had been coerced into helping her pile all the books outside, after which she burned them. By the time Doyle returned there was nothing left, save the charred edges of a few hard-back novels, the smell of burnt paper, and her tire tracks at the edge of the drive (she’d never been good at handling a vehicle). Doyle cried harder for the books than he had for his own parents, and for a moment he felt ashamed; the moment passed and he realized that the books had meant more to him and in some way he’d meant more to the books than he or they had meant to anyone else in the family. Including his parents. As suddenly as the tears started, they stopped. He picked himself up and found the hose to douse the last book embers.
The bright of morning woke him and the mirror showed him tear-swollen eyes. As he pressed the cool wash cloth to them, he heard the doorbell. When it refused to be ignored, he unhurriedly made his way down the stairs to the front door, to find Marcus, his sister’s oldest son. He too had been crying it seemed; as he looked up at his uncle, their tear-swollen eyes looked similar. “Hello, Marcus,” Doyle said quietly, expecting the boy to offer some apology on the part of his mother.
“Hello, Uncle Doyle,” the boy replied. He seemed so filled with something, and with a breath managed to empty himself out. He looked deeply into his uncle’s eyes and handed him a rectangular, oil-paper-wrapped package. “I know why she did it.” He looked at his feet but Doyle knew better than to reply; the floodgate had been opened the moment Marcus had said ‘hello.’ “She was jealous, Uncle Doyle. She stomped around our house, complaining that you loved those books more than you loved anything or anyone else.” His brow furrowed, he continued. “I know the stories about how you took care of her and Uncle Tommy and Uncle Mark, so that’s just nuts.” He locked eyes with Doyle again and whispered, “I saved it. I knew it was your favorite.”
Doyle unwrapped the oil paper and found inside his treasure; he sunk to the ground and held it gently in his lap.
“Thank you, Marcus,” he whispered.
Marcus traced a circle on the ground with his toe. “What’s so important about that book, Uncle Doyle? I mean, I get that it’s historical and old and all, but why was that one out of all of them so valuable to you?”
Doyle opened the book to the middle and removed a photo. He held it at an angle that Marcus could get a good look at it. “This is the only photo of my parents, your mom, and your uncles that exists. It was taken when your mom, who’s the youngest, was four years old. Look how happy we were, Marcus; there was never a time like that, ever again. I’ve kept this photo hidden away in this Titanic book because I happened to have studied shipbuilding as a younger man and was always fascinated by the story of steam ships and so it has been my favorite for a long time. It just made sense to keep the photo in my favorite book, you see.” He patted Marcus on the arm. “Thank you, dear boy, for not only saving my favorite book but my favorite memory as well.”
Marcus smiled. “Oh, no sweat, Uncle Doyle.” He turned to go, but then turned back. “Say, Uncle Doyle; I was thinking of moving out of mom’s. I am 16 now and she wants me to start working this summer. She wanted me to come ask you if I could work the fields here with your workers.” He looked embarrassed. “That was before she decided to do what she did to the books. But I wanted to come as anyway on my own because I figured if you would consider me, that maybe I could just come live here too. And maybe you could tell me more about those steam ships.”
Doyle smiled back. “I think that would be fine, Marcus. You come on back whenever you are ready.” As Marcus walked back down the long driveway, Doyle carefully placed the picture back where it had been for so many years. He opened the cover and started reading. Once again, he found himself with his nose buried in a book; he smiled to himself and suddenly didn’t feel so alone.
You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?
Doyle was certainly nostalgic for the long-gone days of his childhood; I have moments like that, particularly as related to the Titanic book from the image above. My grandmother, who would have been about 14 in 1912, had that book. She kept it in the book shelf above the guest bed I often slept in at her house; I read it often, loving the color of the book (hers was a greenish color with green swirled edged pages). Once she died, the book, along with some other wonderful things that only meant something to her and me were lost–either thrown away or sold at estate sale. It would be wonderful to have her copy of that book back…