The Dark Goddess
Recently, I wrote about having found two unknown photographs in a century old book at the market, here in Central Florida. At first I was disinterested, then later, curious. Why were two people staring back at me from 100 years ago?
And now this. A message -- a postcard -- left in a novel as a bookmark.
It spoke to me of synchronicity.
Jack G. Shorebird
We often use bookmarks and forget about them. Simple bits of plastic, strings or sticky notes. It matters little. But then we die in the middle of a good read.
Our bookmark is cancelled.
Or is it sent somewhere?
We leave evidence of us in our books. A second obituary, often more personal than our official ones. Is this an accident?
It’s kind of morbid to think about, but if I died reading, I wouldn’t complain. Maybe when I do pass away, you will pick up one of my old books at a thrift store or a garage sale and find that someone you did not know, bought shampoo for $1.99.
Handy items such as receipts, photos, and paper clips are more common bookmarks to be sure. The dogear method is not so much respected by time.
But there is another side here, that many of us might not see. Little shards of past-people. Whispers, to us, that someone once read here and you are now holding that book in your hands. Part of them, in your palms.
It's sort of sad and wonderful at the same time. A piece of history -- of someone's life -- in your possession.
Maybe the average bookworm does not care. Thumbing through the used book section of his or her local wording hole, the casual bookworm is often elsewhere in his own head. Artifacts, such as old postcards, are not something he or she sees. Unless the bookworm is also a collector of curiosities.
The weird thing about bookmarks is that they seem to fit the personality. They seem to tell a little story about themselves. About the person who placed it there. About that person's life or even who that person cared about.
And if we pause to listen, during our obsessive hunt for more words, we can, just perhaps, see a little farther, hear a bit more and maybe even smell the apple pie baking in those cookbooks. Cookbooks with grandma’s beautiful handwriting in the margins -- giving us the extra recipes. The food of life we so cherish.
I can see my own grandmother now. She is baking my brother and I some cookies. It is warm inside, but a cold snowy winter outside. I am in Layton, Utah at my grandparent's home. It is over half a century ago, maybe more. It is Christmas.
The challenge often becomes, not to think about the bookmark, after you are awakened to them. Forever more, do you know them now.
A bit of folded homework shoved in at page 237 once belonged to someone. A kid maybe, struggling to learn Spanish.
A housewife bookmarking her favorite recipes with cut-outs of cartoon characters. She probably tried to interest her children. "Remember," she says, "Santa Claus is the cookie recipe!"
The findings here, seem to be as varied as us humans.
Books are often repositories of reader’s thoughts, as well as the author’s words. Think of used books as diminutive gravestones, with flowers having been deposited by a loved one or others, paying their respects.
But flowers wither and die, just as bookmarks often escape their papyrus prisons. The fleeting story is now lost forever. A little girl's photograph on the floor, next to a stack of old bibles, now being swept into the trash. You almost want to say something but it's none of your business.
You still think of that little girl today. A complete stranger. A photo now gone.
All that remains of a dispossessed book is to be read. A husk of empty words, until the new-reader comes. Until the new-reader gives the book a new life. Perhaps a bookmark, in the process.
Bookmarks add dimension. Scribbled notes and signatures are great, but an unattached object is rare. Finding a bookmark is not all that common, however. You kind of appreciate the book you have chosen, if you find a really interesting bookmark.
Without a doubt, a good bookmark helps the new-reader make a connection, even if only a personal one. That is, if you were open to the experience of the bookmark. If not, the next time you open a used book, if you like used books, and something falls out, you may want to give it a quick glance. Just in case. After all, valuable things have been found in books -- and seat cushions.
The Good and Bad
Now, not all bookmarks are worthy of mention. I will give a few examples. A lay of the land, often devoid of bookmarks. What bones do die in this ageless typeface desert, picked over by the feckless hoards?
A blank torn piece of paper? Here is a person in a hurry. If found, discard this wayward scrap.
A photograph? A person who either had it handy or who wants to be reminded of someone each time he or she reads. Photos are gem quality bookmarks. Someone cared about someone. Please treat with care.
A used cotton swab? A nasty person. A slob who does not really care about the book or the subject or maybe there was nothing else available at the moment. Don’t buy the book, unless you really want it. If you buy it, at least wipe it off and read it with latex gloves in a well ventilated room. Seal it in a plastic bag and store in your garage when it is not being read and keep it away from small children.
A ribbon? A caring person. Organized. Probably a fancy control freak. Buy the book. Toss the ribbon, unless you are a chick or one who identifies as a chick or you are alone and nobody sees you reading the book, in which case you can also admire the usefulness of the fancy frilly thing.
One of those nice store bought bookmarks? Worse than a ribbon-lover. A person who cares more about looks than substance. He or she probably should be watching television, instead of reading. Maybe standing in front of a mirror, admiring his or her mustache.
A tiny samurai sword metal bookmark? A stylized bookmark with your name engraved? An antique bookmark? Cash? An engraved stone? You have gone off the reservation my friend. The first rule of a bookmark is function. If the thing flops around and just looks pretty (don’t get any ideas) then you’ve missed the point. That is -- you are supposed to actually read the words.
Naturally, these bookmark thoughts are opinion. Not based on any kind of random sample, other than from the deepest parts of my addled brain. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed my sermon. Now to business.
The postcard. The message, frozen now -- a piece of someone's life.
It was March 14, 2017, when I found The Dark Goddess. Just an old book. A novel in the land of novels. This novel, however, had something most others did not, besides an odd plot about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), when it was a thing. Well, they still exist, just not out in the open. Don’t say that I told you.
In the The Dark Goddess, was a postcard.
“Traditional Irish Homestead with Thatched Roof,” was printed on the front. An idyllic scene of the old Irish countryside, red wagon wheels leaning against a wall, chickens -- you get the picture. Homey. Backbreaking labor. Horse crap.
But I can’t upload it. Copyright issues. You can go online and see the actual artwork, but it appears only on auction sites as far as I can find.
And this is not so much about art, as it is about. “L.”
R and L
On the back of the postcard was a message from “R” to “L.”
No names, okay? There are privacy issues. You can buy postcards all day long and read them, but posting them online is a bit dicey. Besides, you can read it anyway, I have uploaded a copy. I just redacted some stuff.
The postcard was post dated “5 Aug 1985."
A 30 year step backward in time. The book itself was published in 1978.
Perhaps “L” was reading The Dark Goddess sometime after the postdate.
I checked in on “L” then. Maybe she just donated the book. Had her fill. And she had.
Turns out “L” passed away at the age of 87, in 2001. I found her obituary. She was born in 1914. Over 100 years ago. Same as the other books I found recently. (See above link -- unknown photographs.)
"L" died in Leesburg, Florida. A mid sized town, known as a retirement community. It was also known for watermelons, when "L" was a little girl, but that was before she came.
Today, Leesburg has lost its hometown appeal, but the old buildings, haunted by the surrounding neighborhoods, await another chapter. An epilogue of continued disintegration. Even the nursing homes are dying, decaying, draped in Spanish Moss, huddled in the oppressive heat, half-eaten by the shadows.
Before Leesburg, "L" called Apopka, Florida, home. Now, a suburb of Orlando, Florida, Apopka has exploded over the last 30 years.
"L" would have seen that. Seen the small potato patch town grow from backwater to yet another hardening artery feeding Orlando with warm bodies. Meat to grind on the overcrowded oil-slicked roads. Future cadavers, still shopping in the air conditioned grocery stores. Sun stained high-rises, mere oversized grave monuments for the presently pre-deceased.
Maybe "L" tried to distance herself from that rat race then. To flee to the relative quaint and quiet of Leesburg -- a dying town, literally. To refuse the press of flashy cars, new faces and change. To own peace and stability. To jettison busy noises, crying babies and crime. To await what was next.
When “L” was born, there were about 100 million people living in the United States. Probably a Leesburg-like world. Small towns. Less crowds. Fewer cars, for sure.
She lived through two World Wars, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and more. Bad times and hard times.
Then the Space Age and the Information Age increased the speed of the world. I wonder what "L" thought about that.
But she missed the War on Terrorism. She was not here when the Twin Towers fell. Good for her.
Maybe to "L," Leesburg was a hot slice of heaven. Between steaming lakes, laden with a multitude of insects and all manner slithering things, less edible than beautiful, she awaited her final days.
I imagine she was reading during her last days. Watching people from her window. Walkers going to St. Paul's or Saint Johns. Catholics like her. Maybe she was even able to see the parades. The baton twirling girls -- and boys. Bike Fest and book sales.
After her passing “L” returned to Illinois to be next to her husband. “L’s” family is in both places now. Here in Florida and in Illinois.
I checked further. “L’s” family is originally from Alsace, France. Her husband’s family hailed from the United Kingdom. They were Catholic.
So The Dark Goddess had been waiting for 15 plus years, after “L’s” death. Holding that postcard.
Where was it during that time? Sitting on the store shelf? Possibly. In a box in some family member’s garage? Another possibility.
The point is, if we want to keep a piece of our family, then we need to check our books. I'll bet that nobody looked in The Dark Goddess. Maybe, someone did, but didn’t want an old postcard. And it was not that old anyway. Not valuable. But it was probably just overlooked. Lost during the shuffle.
There was a penciled in price inside the front cover of The Dark Goddess. It read “50” cents. I paid two dollars. Next to the price, on the left, were the letters “NVDN.” (I’ve no idea what this means. If you know, please advise below.) I’m thinking that this book was in an estate sale and “NVDN” is a acronym.
So I had, within The Dark Goddess, stumbled upon a message. A postcard from Ireland, with love. It had been sent over 30 years ago and for whatever reason, the postcard was still a bookmark.
Strangely the postcard was inserted at page 359 of The Dark Goddess. Again, the curiosity came. I wanted to know what this person (“L”) was reading. Where she stopped.
Again, I'm keeping an open mind.
The first lines on the previous page read, in part, “...into the living room, Jorgen settled into a battered armchair, opened it to the page he’d marked with a scrap of paper, and resumed reading where he’d left off.” (Italics mine.)
I wonder if at that suggestion, “L” laid the The Dark Goddess down, forever. Her “scrap of paper” being a scrap of her long life: a postcard from “R”. I also hope that “L” has resumed her reading where she left off.
And I did check into “R”. But I am not certain who she was or if she still lives.
Venus von Willendorf
The Last Page
The Dark Goddess (by Marvin H. Albert) was published in 1978. It was respectfully positioned, between other books, when I found it.
To the right, a well worn Catholic Hymnal, probably “L’s” as well and next to it, a history of the Guadalcanal.
To the left, other more obscure fictional titles I have since forgotten.
And The Dark Goddess is a reference to the earliest known piece of art (above).
It's called the Venus figurine. What the figure means is a mystery. Fertility, the “Mother Goddess,” good luck -- they are all speculative guesses.
How strange that the world's oldest piece of art and a postcard are juxtaposed in this way. From one mystery, to another -- the place where "L" has gone.
And finally, we have the answer to that burning question. The one that has kept you up nights, along with your sprained typing fingers. And that is, where do old bookmarks go when they die?
The answer? Into the Book of Life.
The thing is we never really finish our books do we? We all get bookmarked, eventually -- before we are finished.
May your bookmark be as well placed as "L's". And may you read wisely.
© 2017 Jack Shorebird