My grandmother passed away this past Thursday. She was a writer, and a reader, and an editor, and an English teacher, and a crossword puzzler, and a Scrabble player. She was my long-time pen pal, writing me weekly letters throughout my three summers at sleepaway camp and four years at Penn. She taught me, long before we learned the Hamburger Model in elementary school, how to construct a cogent essay. She expanded my vocabulary with Boggle games, forming words I had never heard of with the letter cubes. She got me hooked on The New Yorker.
I'll never forgive myself for not keeping her letters. I looked forward to each one. But what I would give to have thought to collect them, as a physical token of our relationship, as a trace of her, as a comfort now that there is a hole to fill.
Fortunately, as I was packing my bags to return to Philly, I came upon a musty olive green hardcover book on my shelf. Its paper dust jacket was a little ragged at the edges. Its pages were yellowed. Graham Greene- The Comedians, the time-bleached cover read. Penned on the title page: "Sarra Chernick, 1966". It was one of her favorite books, according to my mom. I remember my grandmother gifting me several dear volumes when I was much younger, knowing I had inherited her bookworm tendency, with the caveat that the books may be reading for a later date. So they remained in safekeeping on my shelf, until I discovered this one in particular.
I don't know if I believe in fate; but the truth is that I had been hearing the name Graham Greene referenced in literary conversation, and read of him in many book blog posts, over the past few months. I had added him to my list of authors to check out. This name recognition is why I slid the green volume out from between its neighbors in the first place. Fate or not, how fortuitous! The capricious browsing lent to readers by bookshelves, rather than virtual libraries, led me by happenstance to a connection with my grandmother when she is no longer here to hand me a book.
I may not have her letters; the crossword puzzles we solved together may have been long ago crumpled into the trashcan, the Scrabble tiles and Boggle cubes jumbled back into the box. But I have this book. I can hold it, and smell it, and know that her pen was poised, fingers pressed precisely (she also taught me correct penmanship) at this very spot one moment many years ago. It's ludicrous to even consider that retaining a deceased relative's Kindle, or Nook, or Tablet, or iPhone Stanza app, would be so resonant. I will keep this book forever. It's not sappy to say that I will cherish it, too, forever. And so will I keep and cherish the serendipity of physical books, aligned on bookshelves, subscribed by hand, some once held by my grandmother, who I will miss very, very much.