Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 9, 2022

For the love of books

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover ... but I do frequently.

When our World War II airmen painted pictures of beautiful women on their airplanes, they weren't considering whether those gals had wonderful personalities or fantastic minds. It was all superficial.

I sometimes do the same ... with books. While I typically buy or keep them based on content, I have more than a few that I have kept simply because I think they look cool. If they happen to have great content, well, that's just a bonus.

While I was going through our family's holiday decorations recently, I came across "Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping," "Poochy the Christmas Pup," "Santa's Toy Shop," and "The Night Before Christmas." These books were from when husband Art and I were children. "A Cobweb Christmas," "The Polar Express," "Mickey's Christmas Play-Along Songs," and others were purchased for our daughters Mariya and Katie when they were young. I'm probably not going to read them again, but just seeing them evokes wonderful memories.

A few years ago, I gifted copies to the girls of some of their childhood books so each could have a copy. When I saw the tears well up, I knew it was a case of "like mother, like daughters!"

An old trunk on our family farm yielded other books that appeal to me. The 1898 "Holly Berries from Dickens" contains snippets of wisdom as spoken by the author's characters. There is one for every day of December. For today - the "Ninth Day" - it is "Let there be union among us." Hmm. It still seems like great advice these many years later, doesn't it?

"Holly Berries from the Poets" is a 1909 book of Christmas poems from various authors with beautiful color illustrations. One from Clifton Bingham particularly appealed to me.

Sweet Christmas bells, sweet Christmas bells,
What happy tales your music tells,
What memories of bygone times
Awaken when we hear your chimes!
The Christmas bells of long ago
Seem ringing o'er the world of snow,
And in your song we hear
The voices sweet of yester-year.

"Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns was a gift to my grandmother Ethel (Stewart) Freeland from her childhood-friend Sara Wheeler. Sara's calligraphy-style signature on the inside cover somehow warms my heart, prompting thoughts of friends staying in touch while their individual lives kept them apart.

"Ruby; or a Heart of Gold" is available in a Kindle version, but I prefer the one grandma signed at age 15: "Ethel Stewart, Burns, Kansas, Bought December 20, 1900."

My mother's 1949 "Fieldbook of Natural History" was one of her textbooks when she was learning how to identify trees. She taught me how to recognize oaks, maples, elms, cottonwoods and others. The book still has leaves pressed between the pages.

I handle carefully an 1898 edition of "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The soft brown hide cover has a hand-painted daffodil. I'm not sure who it belonged to, but my great-grandparents Will Freeland and Mary Hillyer were married in Hiawatha, Kansas, a village named after Longfellow's hero in the book.

In contrast, a new book is also special to Art and me. When we rediscovered the story about the people of tiny Morganville, Kansas putting on a play and raising money to help equally-small F�ves, France recover from World War II, we decided we wanted to preserve the story in a form that couldn't easily be lost again. Our almost 10-year effort resulted in a book published in both English and French. The folks in F�ves are considering giving a copy to any couple that weds in the village.

While we labored on its contents, we asked Katie to designs a cover. Her effort startled us at first. The bright-blue cover really made it stand out. But it grew on us. With accents in red and white, it had the flag colors of both the United States and France. How perfect!

Brother Dave gave me "Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book for 1953" - the year I was born. Friend Jo gave me a miniature English-French dictionary when I started studying French. Our German friends B�rbel and G�ntor gave us three equally-tiny tomes about places in Germany. But not all of my special books have a family connection. Some 20 years ago at a church bazaar and auction in my hometown, I bought a set of set of more than 50 books published in 1909 titled the "Harvard Classics - The Five Foot Shelf of Books." They include well-known works from Plato, Milton, Emerson, Burns and others.

This fascination with books is shared by Mariya and Katie. This past summer, Katie alerted us to the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, better known as the "Hay Festival," held every May/June in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. Mariya and wife Miriam traveled with us to visit what is variously known as "The World's First Book Town" or "The National Book Town of Wales." The village of 1,500 has more than 20 bookshops - each piled high with new, old, hard-bound, and paperback tomes of many genres. So many attend that most people park outside the village and ride the buses provided.

Mariya commented:

Hay-on-Wye was a wonderland of one bookshop after another! Each place had room after room chock full of floor-to-ceiling shelves to explore. I had a hard time not taking home my weight in books and probably could have spent a whole week perusing all the various speciality shops. ... My book-loving heart was in heaven!

I love some books because of the stories they tell. Others I like because of how they look. Still others warm my heart because I share a special connection with them. The Oxford dictionary defines a bibliophile as "a person who collects or has a great love of books." If the definition fits ...

Top (l-r): illustration in Longfellow's "Roses and Lilies"; a page from one of the books that belonged to my Swedish kin. I cannot read it, but I enjoy the illustrations and family connection; cover designed by Katie of Art's and my book; one of the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. Bottom (l-r): hide cover of my copy of "Hiawatha;" illustration of Robert Burn's "Auld Lang Syne;" mom's fieldbook including some of the leaves pressed between the pages; Mariya and Miriam in Hay-on-Wye; above is sign next to Mariya and Miriam in the photo to the left and below is an illustration from my 1909 "Holly Berries from the Poets."

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