My mother isn’t one for writing-in-books, so I’m tickled that the book she just mailed me has a sentence underlined with a smiley-face.
“I believe in crazyass passion.”
That’s the line she highlighted in Rinker Buck’s Oregon Trail travelogue, and that says plenty about my mother!
She’s a world traveler, kayaker, fly-fisher, river rafter, scuba diver (Nitrox-certified for deep diving), and always game for a new adventure. She made a great deckhand on a sailing trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands ten years ago, she took my son on a week-long sea-kayaking trip in Mexico last year, she meets for mischief with girlfriends all over the world… and she always has her plane ticket already bought for the “next trip” somewhere. (I believe Panama and Poland are in the current queue…)
If I didn’t know her birth-year, I’d never guess she’s pushing 70, and I continue to wish I had half her energy. (I especially wish that on days when I’m trying to keep up with her at the mall!) I got my travel-bug from both parents, but I got my sense of adventure from her.
I got my bibliophilia from her too, though my penchant for marginalia is something I developed on my own.
Because I DO write in books, I’m accustomed to coming across my prior-self (in the form of penned commentaries) when I re-read my books. I’m not accustomed to coming across other people in my margins, though… So imagine my thrill of surprise today when I picked up my copy of Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” and discovered an unexpected treasure of notes in both my mother’s hand AND my late father’s. (Pencilled, because apparently writing in a book in pen is a little TOO crazyass!)
In this instance they also followed my practice of initialing and dating the final page (along with my dad’s joke that he was the “slow reader”), so I can reconstruct: I loaned the book to them twelve years ago, after my own annotated read-through, and haven’t opened it since. This book suddenly feels like a time capsule.
Bryson is a Twain-esque writer with a self-deprecating sense of humor, keen cultural observations, and an eye for the absurd in any situation. This particular volume details his peripatetic travels around England—so while my own notes are comprised mostly of literary references and appreciation of his humor, my parents’ notes are largely observations from their own British travels. (I was nine years old on my only visit there, so my memories are sparser.)
In response to Bryson’s observation that he has “never had a train conversation that wasn’t disastrous or at least regretted,” my Dad wrote his own agreement. “I’m inclined to do the same on airplanes. I know I’ve missed some interesting stories, but I’ve been spared the dull ones”—adorned with his distinctive laughing-face doodle.
That’s a difference between my parents: my mom gets off an airplane (or out of the grocery-store line, for that matter) knowing the life story of the person beside her. She’s a magnet for people’s stories. After one flight her seatmate bought her a ticket to Tahiti so she could sort out his estate-planning there. (She’s a practicing lawyer when she’s not out adventuring.)
A trait Bryson admires in the British (especially in contrast to America’s greedy consumerism and “super-size” mentality) is their deep appreciation of the seemingly-small things in life, even an ordinary and daily occurrence like the appearance of the tea-tray. That’s another trait my dad shared; leafing through his Garden Journal the week he died, I found cheery celebrations of a particular lily’s appearance, or “12 hours of daylight!”
Dad got his British genes from his dad, another genial fellow who appreciated the small things. Grandpa’s travel-journal from the European tour they took together included a description of the “fun” they had rolling hand-washed laundry in hotel towels and stomping on them to wring them dry. Alongside descriptions of castles and wines, that’s what stands out to me about his journaling.
For all his love of travel, my dad was less naturally adventurous, in many ways, than my mother or myself… He wasn’t one for “crazyass passions.” His life often seemed to me to be restricted and constrained by his own plans and schedules and uber-organization… But re-reading this book (and Dad’s notes as he enjoyed it) reminds me to learn from him… to appreciate what’s in front of me, abroad or at home.