By Barb Arland-Fye
As physical distancing precautions continue because of the coronavirus crisis, I realized a need for bookshelf space in the spare bedroom that serves as my home office. Clearing off the first row of books from the bookcase required little effort because I didn’t have an emotional attachment to them. Clearing the next row, however, required a long pause. Those books mattered; they were children’s books I read with my younger son Patrick, usually before bedtime, snuggled up in a recliner in the family room.
I remember us laughing at the crazy antics of a mischievous boy named “Fudge,” a character Judy Blume created. Author Beverly Cleary’s “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” about a boy who writes letters to a favorite author, inspired Patrick to write a letter to his favorite author, Peg Kehret. Patrick told me last weekend he had read our well-worn paperback copy of Kehret’s “The Hideout” at least three times as a kid. He loved her writing and that story in particular, because it was suspenseful and had references to trains. The author wrote back to Patrick twice. The second letter followed one Patrick sent questioning Kehret about her description of a train. My husband Steve was a locomotive engineer and instilled his passion for trains in both of our sons!
Patrick and I fell in love with British veterinary surgeon James Herriot’s wonderful series that included “All Creatures Great and Small,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “All Things Wise and Wonderful.” I have been passionate about reading since early childhood. Sharing that love with Patrick and his much older brother, Colin, brought great joy to my life. On trips to visit family in Minnesota I often read to the boys and my husband in the car.
Back to the bookcase. The books I have been unable to part with belonged to Patrick. I can’t bear to put them in storage because they served as a salve during his challenging childhood. Those wonderful stories helped both of us to escape the hurt and pain. When I was pregnant with Patrick, and long after he was born, I prayed fervently to God to bless my younger son with a typical childhood that his older brother with autism did not experience. I think the weight of that longing became too heavy for Patrick to carry. But God’s grace has guided him to maturity.
The other night I called my parents to see how they were doing in this time of the coronavirus. My dad answered the phone first. Still thinking about Patrick’s books, I couldn’t help but take my dad on a journey to the past, when we bonded over books. We began purchasing a series of John Jakes’ novels when I was in high school and took turns reading and discussing them. I cherish those memories.
My dad expressed disappointment that he can’t get books from the library during the coronavirus pandemic, so he’s been reading his old books over again. I think I’ll get him some books for his birthday, as a surprise. I hope he doesn’t read this column!
So what happened to Patrick’s books? They sit in a stack on the coffee table in front of me, waiting to be placed somewhere. I feel God’s nudge, letting me know it’s OK to let them go.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)