Friday, December 13, 2013


When I was in my early twenties, my sister and her beau decided to get married in Mexico. I saw this as a perfect excuse for an adventure, so spent the summer working in Alaska, saved all my hard-earned pennies and traveled overland that fall to join my family at the wedding on the Yucatan Peninsula. My family worried about me traveling alone through Mexico, but there was no convincing me to give up my plan.

Somewhere along the way on that trip, I think it was on a bus (who knows where), I got into a conversation with a man sitting across the aisle from me. I can still sort of picture his handsome face, his mustache and cowboy boots. Calling our exchange a conversation might be a bit generous, as my Spanish was poor and his English limited. We managed though, and I understood that, like my family, he was troubled about me traveling alone. After exhausting the limits of our shared language, he kindly bought me some sweets from a seller at a bus stop, and then pulled out his wallet and handed me this image of María del Perpetuo Socorro, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I have been carrying this iconic image alongside my passport in all my travels since. When I'm not traveling, it's tucked into the pages of my journal.

For me, this icon isn't wrapped up in any religious story about Our Lady. For me, this token represents something much broader. It might sound lofty to say this, but when I look at this image it serves as a reminder of my faith in humanity. For a perfect stranger to care about my well-being, to offer me this as protection in my travels tells me that we are all more alike than different, that we are all part of one big family. (However dysfunctional we at times may be.)

Why am I sharing this story? If one day, someone else were to find my journal and in turning through the pages discover this image of María, they could only guess at why I had placed it there. They could never imagine the backstory of how I came by it, the meaning it held for me, or that it had become a talisman of sorts that I carried on all my journeys. 

As a purveyor of vintage books, I find myself wandering the shelves and poking my nose into many old tomes. Over the years, I have found many things tucked within their pages. Each time, as I'm standing there amongst the din of whatever store I'm in, I am stopped in my tracks as I ponder what I've found. Sometimes it's as simple as a receipt, telling me perhaps where and when the book was originally purchased. Others, it's a cryptic note scribbled on a scrap of paper, a photograph, a bookmark, a religious icon, a letter from a grandson to his grandmother. Maybe I'm too much of a romantic, but I can't help but wonder at these found items. Did they mean as much to someone else as my little icon does to me? Are they sorry to have lost them in the pages of a book now given away? I have been collecting these found bits over the years, unable to bring myself to throw them out, and thought I'd share a few here. 

"this is not my heart"

Then there is this scrap of paper, found inside a very old book, The Fossil Remains of the Animal Kingdom. Shooks for sale? What the heck are shooks? Quercitron bark? (It turns out that shooks are all the parts & pieces needed to build a box or cask. Quercitron bark is used to make natural yellow dye.) My curiosity led me to research this bit of paper and I learned that it's from a newspaper in Boston circa 1850. Yep, 1850. And the book? The book was published in 1830! How is it sitting on the shelf of a thrift store for less than two dollars? How many hands has it passed through these past 183 years? (It feels like it came right off Charles Darwin's bookshelf; I'm sure I'll never be able to part with it.) Most importantly, did the person who tore off this bit of newspaper get the shooks they needed?

I love these found bits I chance upon within the pages of old books. They have their own stories to tell, their own mysteries to make me pause and wonder.

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