The attic smelled old, heavy with dust and the floor creaked. It was summer (I think) and I was probably eleven or twelve. The light was golden brown and thick as I rummaged through boxes. Probably my cousin Chris was with me, but I not sure and I might have been alone. Then I found it. A box. A box of treasure. A box full of Hardy Boy books. These weren’t the garish blue and illustrated covers from the seventies, these were old: beige thick hardcovers that had no pictures on them but that smelled exciting. I’m sure I had to ask permission to take them, but I don’t remember that either. I know that they had been my Uncle Jim’s and I probably read all of them by the end of the summer. That moment of discovery, breathing in the rich scent of old books that had been packed up, forgotten and were now set free once again . . . I remember that moment in the way you always remember such moments: thickly and with a churning of excitement in my stomach. I don’t know if I loved the smell of old books before that moment, but the discovery of my Uncle’s books nearly thirty years ago in the attic of the Williams Family Country Store (my family’s store) haunts each time I smell old books.1
Have you ever held a book close to your face and inhaled deep, taking in all those words and history and time? For me, the smell of time is an old book.
I recently found My mother recently sent me a copy of a brochure for the Williams Family Store and it reminded me of just how central that building was to my life, despite the long distance nature of that relationship after my parents moved us away from York when I was seven. The brochure is from a later period of time, probably close to the time my grandparents decided to sell the store when I was in my twenties. My reaction to the news that they were selling the store was one of sudden, punch-in-the-gut loss. Sadness and anger came later, but initially I felt only loss. The odd thing is that I don’t have many actual memories of the store or the building from when I was young. I remember, when my cousin had an apartment in the building and I stayed with him and there were pretty girls and we stayed up too late smoking and drinking and we watched movies and I fell in love that night—in the way only young twenty-somethings can fall in love—with a girl I’d never see again and who turned me on to Kahlil Gibran. But when I think back to my younger years, my childhood, I find only fragments and even those tend to be obscured, like I’m looking at them through thick, warped glass:
floorboards creaking / my grandfather behind the counter / hiding in the racks of clothes /
Mostly I remember a feeling of safety and rightness. There was an utter appropriateness to the store and the building, to visiting my great-grandmother in her apartment above the store, to knowing that the town knew our family through this portal. I felt pride and ownership. Though my grandparents owned the store, it was the Williams Family Store, so that meant it was partly mine. Or I was partly its. Warmth and safety and love wrapped into the shape of a general store and apartments and hallways that always smelled of another time, connecting me to a past I was too busy being a child to appreciate and too wrapped up in my Hardy Boy adventures to really get to know.
I miss the store, those hallways, that attic. I miss the boy whose summer could shine golden from the simple act of finding a box of books.
On this day..
- Love Bursting Like a Chestburster - 2010
- This is Bad, This is Real Bad - 2009
- Really, what kind of "journalism" is this? - 2005
- No title title - 2005
- An interesting Freudian slip: several times when writing this entry, I have typed “story” instead of “store.” [↩]