When you work at a busy library, you’re always dealing with the constant flow of donations.
I try not to dwell on them for very long. Usually they are easy to sort out. If it’s a shiny new bestseller that is in high demand, I’ll add the book to the collection without question. If it’s an old, irrelevant textbook, almanac, etc, or if its moldy, smelly, or tainted in some unusable way, I’ll throw it out. (I know the correct answer is recycle it, but practically speaking, a lot of the binding glue and materials used in books aren’t easily recyclable). Everything else in between goes into our book sale, along with materials we’ve withdrawn from the collection. The revenue raised from the book sale goes towards new materials. Stuff that doesn’t sell in the book sale after a reasonable time is boxed up and carted away by a mysterious shipping company. All we know is that every couple of months a truck comes by and takes away what we ask them to take. We’ve heard rumours that they try to sell the books online and give us a cut of the profits, but know really knows?
My turn-around time on a donated item is usually just a couple of days.
So it’s a bit of a surprise that I’ve been sitting on a donation here for almost two weeks, feeling a bit unsure as to how I should proceed with it.
I’ve come to think of this as the “Amy Donation”.
The Amy Donation arrived last week anonymously. That is, it was dropped off without a note or without a person telling us where it was from or what they wanted us to do with it. Normally if I get a customer in person, I’ll give them my criteria spiel: (We don’t take anything older than 5 years, we don’t take garage sale leftovers, etc). This donation was three large dusty boxes of old, well-worn books. Mostly hardcovers, some of which I recognized the author, most of which I did not. My first impression was “dumpster”, but then I started to look a little bit closer.
The interesting thing about this donation is that none of the books looked newer than about 1940. Most of them had inscriptions inside: either a person’s name, or a gift dedication. Most of the book’s owners had the last name “Amy”, and with the exception of one book marked “Morden”, all of them are from a place called Darlingford. A quick online search shows that Darlingford is a village about 20 km west of Morden, Manitoba, about 2 hours southwest of Winnipeg. The village was founded in 1899 by James Ephraim Law. I noticed that one of the books had “B.J. Law” inscribed in the front. Could this be one of the village founder’s children? There’s also a B.J. Bond. That seems like too many B.J.s to be a coincidence. That isn’t a sentence I thought I’d ever write. Another book has “Betty J. Law”, so that’s probably one of our B.J.s, yes? Another book is simply “Betty Amy”. Could Betty, daughter of the village forefather, have married into the Amy clan? Where does the “Bond” come in? Did she remarry down the road, after her husband was killed in WWI?
The more I looked at these books and inscriptions, I began to imagine the Amy family and tried to ascribe characteristics to each person based on their reading interests and condition of books. Norma Amy loved Thomas Costain novels; there are three with her name inside the front. She also seemed to take very good care of her books. She wasn’t a lender.
Pearl Amy, possibly her sister, owned a copy of “Twice Tried” by Annie Swan. It was inscribed “Christmas, 1906, Darlingford”. It wasn’t in as good a shape as her sister’s novels. I think Pearl was the kind of reader who bent the spines back and let her books fall out of her school bag on the way to the one-room Darlingford school-house.
Myron Amy appears to be a bit of a Ralph Connor fan, and a petty thief to boot. Two Ralph Connor books had his name in the front, “The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land” and “The Foreigner”. Only problem is these books belong to the Calvin United Church in Darlingford. One was checked out January 19, 1919 and due back Feb 2. The other one has the “Date Due” page partially ripped out and was being used as a bookmark! Cheeky. Looks like Myron’s got some ‘splaining to do.
Then there’s Mr. Cotton Amy, whom I imagine to be the patriarch of the Amy clan, keeping a firm hand on the moral compass of his family and community. He has sent two books to a James Amy, whom I reckon is a younger family member, perhaps nephew. One is a collection of sermons called “Old Wells dug out: Talmage’s Sermons Vol. 3” and “A Manual of Moral Instruction” by James Reid M.A. It seems Cotton may have well advised to send these books to his other nephew, Myron.
What about Billy Amy, who had a well-worn copy of “The Boy Scouts-Victory”, a novel extolling the virtues of “being prepared” and “helping those in need”? Billy, perhaps later in life, owned a formidable copy of “When a Man’s a Man” by Harold Bell Wright. It seems to be a tale full of ranch life, and men doing manly things. I picture Billy as outdoorsy and possibly a little bit sexually confused.
Another book is dedicated to “The Amy Brothers”. Could this be Billy and Myron, or Myron and James? Impossible to tell.
The youngest Amy in the group appears to be “Master Fred”. His Christmas 1905 book is “Blackie’s Boys Annual”. No copyright date, but I’d put it somewhere in the mid 1890’s.
Cedric Amy had a child’s book called “Leo and Dick”. Chapter 1, “Dick finds a friend” is all about Leo, a school boy and rugby star encountering “Dick”, a “gipsy”. Maybe I’m wrong on who’s in Darlingford’s closet?
And what about this mysterious Helen Martin of Morden? Why is there one of her books in here with the rest of the Amy family’s? What’s her role? What’s her game? Is she an interloper, a secret lover of one of the Amy boys? Sordid possibilities flood my mind. I’m beginning to see Darlingford in a lurid light; an early 20th century version of Twin Peaks, perhaps?
In the midst of all these clues lies the requisite well-worn King James Bible. I excitedly turned to the front and back covers to see if any family tree information was recorded, as some families did. Disappointment. No markings at all. Not even an inscription. The only thing in the Bible was an ancient fabric bookmark with the cross-stitched verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”. Oh, and a creepy newsprint clipping with four bible verses all dealing with “hands”.
What does all this mean? Nothing probably. But I couldn’t help think that somehow these books could be a time capsule of the past, and if I were a children’s fantasy writer, I could begin a story with the spirits of these people trapped inside each of their favourite books and how someone from present day, an unsuspecting librarian perhaps, would be tasked to write the wrongs of a hundred years ago. Sort of a John Bellairs meets M.R. James meets Garrison Keillor meets Ray Bradbury kind of thing. You know the kind. Maybe The Ghosts of Darlingford Manor would make a good title? If I were 12 again, I would TOTALLY read a book with that title. You would have had me at the mere mention of “ghosts”. Throw in an atmospheric mansion in a quaint rural town and you’ve all the ingredients you need to open a vein and let the story run through you. If any one of you want to take this idea and run with it, all I ask is a “special thanks to” mention in the front of your book. And a signed copy. “To Master Trevor, Christmas, 2014” would do nicely.
Oh, and we could present a copy to the United Church in Darlingford too. I hear they’re missing a couple of books.