Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shelf-ish Memories

I built bookshelves for my father.

It may not seem like much, but it's a memory I'll always cherish.

Back in the summer of 1974, when Susan and I realized that our books were expanding well beyond our ability to store them, I built a set of bookshelves for our house at 621.5 Olive Street. They weren't anything fancy (a couple of decades later, my former brother-in-law Johnny Pearson built bookshelves for me that were true furniture-quality shelves, whereas mine were basic and functional), but I was incredibly proud of the fact that I had built them myself, had finished them myself, and that they were both useful and attractive it. (I still have those shelves in the basement, in fact, and they serve as the home to many of my Ballantine Adult Fantasy titles, my HPL, my REH, my Doc Savage, my ERB, my Heinlein... in short, they house the same books they would have housed in 1974, since these are authors who have been an integral part of my reading and collecting since the 1960s.)

A few weeks after I finished the shelves, Mom and Dad came to Cedartown to visit my grandmother, who lived next door to us; Dad came over to our house for a little while, and was quite taken with the bookshelves. "I'd love to have some shelves like that for our living room," Dad said, "but we don't have a wall we can put shelves against since we have the big Sony television." (Of course, in 1975, "big" meant a 27" Sony that weighed as much as a steamship anchor, and the living room was the very small room in the front of the house that served as the central room for family activities, since my parents hadn't yet built the spacious den off the back of the house.)

I believe that Dad had forgotten about it at that point, but I kept thinking revisiting those shelves. Finally, I came to Dad with a plan. I could build shelves that would work with his television set--two tall two foot wide units that would flank the television, and a three foot bridging unit that would begin above the television, leaving a hole for the Sony and its stand. I sketched it out, and Dad was enthusiastic.

I built the shelves during a school holiday, preparing them while Dad was at work. It took a couple of days to finish the shelf units properly; once they were done, I assembled the three parts on the floor, then lifted them into position and anchored them against the wall.

And they fit perfectly!

I'll always remember the look on Dad's face; I don't think he had really believed it would all come together, but he was quite pleased that it did. He and Mom spent quite some time deciding what would go where on each of those shelves--the books, the records, the pictures, the decorative items, each placed carefully for maximum appeal.

Those bookshelves were the only thing I ever built for Dad. I'm not a handy person; I don't build things very often, and I'm not particularly skilled at it. Neither did Dad, which was why he had never attempted to build the shelves himself. Dad had an impressive array of skills, but woodworking and carpentry did not number among them; I never saw him attempt to do anything more than hang the occasional shelf.

In this case, though, I had assembled something just for Dad, and he loved it. In that, I found a sense of satisfaction that was almost surprising. I had done something for Dad that he did not believe he could do for himself; even better, he was impressed with the finished product. I will never forget the feeling of pride and satisfaction that came with the completion of those shelves...