As the rains came down and the rivers of Northwestern Oregon climbed their banks last month, our little farm became an island. All around us homes and businesses were flooded; people lost pets, possessions, vehicles; families were separated without phone communication for days; towns shut down and were stranded. Up on our hill we stayed safe and dry, and, thank God, together; we watched the floodwaters rise over the road in front of the house, ate lots of soup, and played games by candlelight. We were very fortunate, yet Odious and I did suffer our own tragedy.
When we moved up here a year ago, we put most of our possessions into a storage unit in a nearby town. When I say most of our possessions, I mean our most prized ones--our books. Fifty boxes of a library accumulated over our collective 29 years; gifts, treasured finds, precious friends, tangible memories.
As the town flooded, so did the storage facility. Four feet of sewage-contaminated water filled every unit, destroying anything that could not be wiped down with bleach or run through a washing machine. Destroying 25 boxes of our beloved books.
What makes me curse fate in the loudest voice is the utter randomness of the tragedy. The books we lost were in the boxes that happened to be stacked on the bottom, which happened to be, for the most part, the ones I would have chosen to save over the others. There were two boxes of particularly prized books that had been purposely set atop the stack, well out of the way; but as the bottom boxes got soaked and crumpled, the stack shifted and sent those two down into the muck, so that the first thing we saw when opening the unit was Odious' signed copy of Tam Lin. Not only was it signed, it was the book that introduced me to Pamela Dean and the book that cemented Odious' and my budding relationship our freshman year of college; he read it aloud to me those first few months of our strange new life away from home.
Also tumbled from those special boxes were Odious' prized James Branch Cabell novels--old, out-of-print, rare, signed, first edition. He didn't cry, as I did, to see most of those beyond redemption, but I know how he mourns them. And there are so many more to mourn! My collection of European fairy tales, read over and over as a child; the copy of Watership Down my mother read to us as a bedtime story; the Secret Country trilogy beloved to Odious for so long, and the copy of Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary he gave to me on the first birthday we celebrated together; dozens of annotated college texts (though that marginalia is perhaps best lost forever); Xenophon; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, inscribed "For a kindred spirit" from a kindred spirit; A Room with a View inscribed with a long loving note from a long loving friend; the complete works of Flannery O'Connor from a wonderful SJC preceptorial; Pearl S. Buck's House of Earth, given to me by a favorite tutor; The Search for Delicious, another fundamental book in Odious' and my relationship (the moment he discovered I'd read it, a few weeks after we met, was, I believe, the moment he decided to marry me), A Passage to India, with a note from a friend I'll never see again; Tovah Martin and Richard Brown's lovely books about Tasha Tudor's life; all our farming/country life books. These losses haunt me still; and while every now and then I am struck with the realization that I no longer own any Jane Austen or Shakespeare, it is the books that I can never replace that I will mourn forever.
Odious and I are working on compiling a list of all the lost books which we will then post here and on his blog. This will not be a wish list, but rather a list to which friends can refer should they desire to give us gifts. While the urge is great to have huge shopping sprees at Powell's and Borders, my hope is to rebuild a library similar to the one we lost, full of new memories--exciting finds from book sales and books that friends wished to share with us, complete with their loving words inscribed inside.
UPDATE: I had a slightly heartening morning looking through the boxes we did manage to save, and found several books that I'd thought were lost (my index card system was a little vague), including A Search for Delicious! The unfortunate part is that it made me realize how many books we had that I simply cannot remember. Odd booksale finds, random gifts, etc, that have simply slipped from my memory since packing up the library a year and a half ago. And oh my goodness! I want my books so dreadfully--I want to unpack them and put them on shelves and read them and just look at them...