When I was sixteen, my parents decided to do a massive book purge (much to the delight of the local library). Boxes of my father’s history books and mother’s eclectic paper back collection were stacked neatly by the front door, waiting for their new home.
“What’s this?” I asked, fishing a slim volume from the top of the pile.
“Poetry,” my mother replied.
“I don’t remember this.”
“It’s from when I was in university.”
“I’m going to keep it.”
My mother regarded me, suspiciously. “I thought you didn’t like poetry.”
I shrugged and took the book back to my room. I flopped down on the bed and stared at the cover: Selected Poems by T.S. Eliot.
Poetry, I should admit, is a bit like Opera – at least to me. I can appreciate it, but I don’t think I’ll ever really love it (and here I thought I’d never have a use for the two hours I spent watching Pretty Woman).
Still, reservations aside, I cracked it open.
I’d love to tell you that it was the book that changed my life – the one that opened me up to a lifelong love of reading poetry. That would be lying. I did like it – I still sometimes quote Rhapsody on a Windy Night – but it didn’t change my life.
It did, however, change the way I viewed my mother.
She had underlined. And added little exclamation marks.
My mother, the woman who never left a mess and who hated scuff marks, felt compelled to leave permanent marks in that book. I pictured her, at twenty, reading something and being so struck by it that she had to leave a sign – a roadmap for future reference. I made a study of the lines she noted, looking for hidden revelations – dreams and thoughts she had before I was born. I loved that she had underlined the book and I couldn’t help but add my own notations.
Since then, if it’s a paperback, I’ve not had any qualms about underlining – not if something really takes my fancy or makes me smile.
Someday, years from now, someone will stumble across my old copy of The Princess Bride. On page 289, they’ll find the following bit of dialog underlined:
“The last thing I remember was dying, so why am I on this wall? Are we enemies? Have you got names? I’m the Dread Pirate Roberts, but you can call me ‘Westley’.”
It’s not packed with meaning or profound truths. Probably, they’ll wonder why I even bothered to note it. If it’s someone who knows me well, however, they’ll work it out.
It made me smile and I wanted to always be able to find it. And, if someone ever found the book, I wanted them to know how much I enjoyed it.
* post title from Rhapsody on a Windy Night by T.S. Eliot